Michigan’s industrial history has provided both opportunity for technological advancement and growing concerns over soil and water pollution. Farmers face challenges, with no easy answers, when contamination is found on or near their farms. A new state initiative to investigate Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a prime example. Used for decades in everything from firefighting foam to stain-resistant and non-stick coatings, this class of chemicals moves through surface and groundwater and does not break down easily.
With research suggesting health risks caused by exposure to these chemicals, Michigan adopted new federal drinking water standards of 70 parts per trillion, and is testing municipal water systems for PFAS. Still unknown, however, is whether – or how much – PFAS in the soil or irrigation water could be taken up by crops, or what concentration might endanger livestock or pass into meat, eggs, or milk. More research is needed to establish what farmers need to know about these and many other chemicals.
Adopting practices more familiar to industry than farming may provide some protection: Michigan law protects landowners from liability if they did not cause the contamination and they either: 1) purchased the property before 1995, or 2) perform and submit a Baseline Environmental Assessment. This includes protection from clean-up costs if the contamination must be remediated. However, the landowner cannot increase exposure to the contamination, which may affect the farmer’s ability to do activities like installing drain tile if the tile carries contamination off the property. It also does not address other questions about risks to farms and food. Farmers need thorough research, science-based regulation, and proactive action to not only protect themselves, but to help protect human and environmental health.
Laura Campbell | 517-679-5332
MFB: #84 Nonpoint Source Pollution and Watershed Management
AFBF: #505 Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Management
Michigan Guidance on Environmental Contamination
PFAS Information from Michigan’s Action Response Team