Biosolids, PFAS and Oregon Agriculture

Known as “forever chemicals,” harmful PFAS chemicals can be found in the air, water, and soil of virtually every ecosystem on Earth. Distribution of PFAS varies widely – from high concentrations in states like Michigan and Maine to very low levels here in Oregon. Our state’s water utilities and water quality agencies are already studying the sources and level of PFAS in our local water systems. But there is still much to learn about how these chemicals move through our ecosystem. 

That’s why we’re urging lawmakers to pass the Biosolids Bill (HB 4049). This important bill will support OSU Extension in studying the levels of PFAS present in biosolids – a widely used, sustainable fertilizer – and to what extent these chemicals move into the environment when land-applied.

 

Biosolids

Healthy soil, healthy crops

Treated to meet strict EPA and DEQ standards, land-applied biosolids are stable, nutrient-rich organic materials applied as fertilizers. A 2021 study showed that biosolids help soil retain moisture, sequester carbon and facilitate the formation of good soil structure, often more effectively than commercial fertilizers. Biosolids are widely used in Oregon, benefiting producers and promoting healthy soil across the state.

PFAS (aka “forever chemicals”)

A growing concern

Growing scientific evidence shows that exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) lead to a range of health problems. PFAS do not break down with current wastewater treatment technologies. And, they can be found virtually everywhere – including in biosolids. Even though levels are comparatively low in Oregon, it is imperative that we continue to study the effects these “forever chemicals.”

 

What Oregon can do about it today

Pass the Biosolids Bill (HB 4049)

Levels of PFAS in Oregon wastewater biosolids are currently very low. However, it is essential to understand the impacts of even very low levels of these “forever chemicals.” That’s why OEC is pushing for Oregon lawmakers to pass the Biosolids Bill (HB 4049), which will provide $740,000 to fund key research on how PFAS in fertilizer from wastewater biosolids move through Oregon’s agricultural soils, water, and select non-food crops. 

The study will be conducted through OSU Extension and the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. Data collected will deliver needed information to Oregon leaders, municipal wastewater utilities, and producers, allowing them to make well-informed, strategic decisions on ways to protect the environment and public health.

Good management requires sound science, verifiable data and on-the-ground studies. This bill is an opportunity for our state to apply these standards to an area where they’re sorely needed.

Investing in Oregon’s future

Determining if and how PFAS moves into the environment from land-applied biosolids is a pressing question. Data gained through this study will help Oregon’s DEQ, the federal EPA, Oregon agricultural producers and wastewater utilities understand the impact of PFAS in Oregon. Currently, federal studies and policymakers are focused on areas with high PFAS concentrations like Maine and Michigan. But, they are not looking at Oregon. HB 4049 will enable the state to gather data in a scientifically rigorous manner so future policies on PFAS take Oregon into account. 

We are joined in our support of the Biosolids Bill (HB 4049) by a broad range of stakeholders including municipalities, wastewater treatment facilities, conservation groups, scientists, and Oregon farmers and ranchers.

OEC’s work to protect the health of Oregon’s water, communities, and agricultural lands is made possible by people across the state who care about safeguarding Oregon’s future. 

Make a difference. Become a member of OEC today

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