Read the full article by Garret Ellison (MLive)
“Adam Nordell is a Maine organic vegetable and grain grower who shut his farm down because of toxic PFAS contamination.
Susan Gordon is a Colorado organic farmer who was forced to do the same thing.
Jason Grostic is a Michigan organic beef farmer facing bankruptcy after his cattle became contaminated.
They and other polluted farmers gathered Monday, Oct. 23 during a symposium at Michigan State University to advocate for peers across the country whose livelihoods have been wrecked by toxic ‘forever chemicals.’
They are working with Defend Our Health, a Maine-based nonprofit that’s raising alarms about PFAS chemicals entering the food supply and pushing for aid for farmers struggling with a problem they didn’t create.
‘This is affecting farms across the country,’ said Nordell, whose land was contaminated by municipal sewage sludge that was used as fertilizer long before his family bought the property.
‘Basically, we need a federal safety net to help keep impacted farms in business,’ he said.
A bill introduced in Congress in March, the Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act, would authorize a new $500 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program to compensate farmers for the loss of crops, animals or land from PFAS pollution.
If passed, the federal grants would fund blood testing for contaminated farm families and workers, soil and water testing, contamination monitoring, remediation efforts, equipment upgrades, developing alternative production systems, educational programs, relocation, research, and more.
The bill is modeled after legislation in Maine, which set aside $60 million last year to fund income replacement, farm buybacks, medical monitoring, mental health monitoring and other programs for polluted commercial farmers.
Advocates want the Relief Act measures folded into the Farm Bill, an omnibus, multi-year law that’s periodically re-written to set policy and funding for farm and conversation programs. The bill expired last month and Congressional agriculture committees are writing a new one this fall.
The legislation is bipartisan in a limited way. It was introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and a House companion is co-sponsored by a Republican from Pennsylvania, Brian Fitzpatrick. Beyond that, current co-sponsors are mostly Democrats. The only Michigan delegate to sign-on thus far is Elissa Sloktin, D-Holly.
In Michigan to date, regulators have not found widespread agricultural contamination from PFAS. The state has aggressively sought out and found PFAS in drinking water supplies and surface waters. It has tested farm soils but has not reported major issues. The pollutants have been found on some farm properties, but regulators have thus far only taken major public action at one farm, Grostic Cattle Co. in Livingston County.
In January 2022, the state slapped an advisory on Grostic beef, which was raised on land fertilized with municipal sewage sludge, or ‘biosolids,’ from the Wixom wastewater plant. The facility received high levels of PFAS in industrial effluent from Tribar, a plating company chiefly responsible for the Do Not Eat advisory for fish due to PFAS in the Huron River.
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) officials have characterized Grostic’s situation as a one-off because he received the largest and most frequent applications of biosolids from Wixom, and his cattle feed was grown on site.
Grostic and advocates are skeptical. They know sludge spreading has been a widespread practice for years on Michigan farms. They think worried regulators are turning a blind eye to some farms out of concern for putting them out of business.
That’s exactly how a Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) toxicologist described the state’s approach during a conference in Boston four years ago.
‘I know three other parcels that are contaminated worse than I am,’ said Grostic. Yet, those farmers are ‘still farming, still selling grain, still selling pigs.’
In Maine, Defend Our Health advocates say the application of municipal wastewater sludges is responsible for contamination at more than 70 farms.
A driving factor in such testing is Maine’s development of soil screening values and action levels for foodstuffs like milk and beef, which gives regulators a safety threshold to rely on.
Michigan doesn’t have comparable levels. Neither does USDA. Federal regulators are only now closing in on setting enforceable standards for drinking water after years of delay.
‘If I was shipping milk in Michigan, I’d still be in business,’ said Fred Stone, a Maine farmer who euthanized about 80 percent of his dairy cattle herd after finding contamination in 2016.
Stone fertilized with biosolids from the early 1980s to 2004 under a state permit. Were he in Michigan, ‘my cows could still go to market — all would be right with the world.’
‘If there is no number, there is no problem,’ said Stone.
Sewage sludge isn’t the only source of PFAS on farms around the country. At Gordon’s community farm near Colorado Springs, the contaminants came from groundwater polluted by firefighting form used at nearby Peterson Air Force Base.
That’s also how Art Schapp’s farm in Clovis, New Mexico near Cannon Air Force Base became contaminated. The cows at his Highland Dairy farm drank highly polluted groundwater before the chemicals were found and it passed into their milk.
‘Our products are sold nationwide,’ said Schapp, who has ‘met a lot of people nationwide who have this problem also.’
‘I think we are just the tip of the iceberg,’ said Gordon.
In Michigan, Grostic said there’s little support for polluted farms.
‘Unlike Maine, Michigan has nothing for us,’ said Grostic, who has been haggling with the state attorney general’s office over requirements that he keep feeding his herd, which he can’t sell. He gets a grant to buy clean feed but has to pay taxes on it.
‘I want something out of my cattle to put back in the bank so I can at least feed my kids next week,’ he said. ‘That’s a big process that the state is just back-and-forth with me on — “oh, they’re worthless. You don’t deserve nothing for it and we don’t need to help you.”‘
Grostic said he’s been called a ‘murderer’ by customers upset to learn they bought contaminated meat. He’s sold his farming equipment to stay afloat.
‘My land is contaminated. Nobody is going to buy it,’ he said.”