DECATUR, Alabama, May 31, 2009 (ENS) – High levels of toxic perfluorochemicals found in agricultural soils near Decatur have led federal government scientists to investigate whether the chemicals have entered the human food chain and contaminated meat and milk. They already have been found in several private drinking water wells.
The chemicals entered the soil as biosolids from the Decatur Utilities wastewater treatment plant that were applied as fertilizer on about 5,000 acres of privately owned agricultural fields in three counties near Decatur.
Testing is still ongoing, but to date, the chemicals have been found in six local drinking water wells but not in public water supply systems.
On Tuesday, June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will host a public meeting at the recreation center in Moulton, Alabama, 18 miles southwest of Decatur, to inform residents about the status of the investigation of perfluorochemical contamination.
Representatives from the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Alabama Departments of Environmental Management, Agriculture and Industries, and Public Health, and Decatur Utilities will participate in the meeting.
A public availability session will be held from 6:00 to 7:00 pm to answer residents’ questions individually. The public meeting will be held from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, and there will be an opportunity for additional questions and answers at the conclusion of the meeting.
Perfluorochemicals are used as fire-fighting foams, personal care and cleaning products; and stain, grease and water repellent coatings on carpet, textiles, leather and paper.
Several Decatur area industries manufacture PFCs or use the chemicals in their manufacturing processes and the Decatur Utilities plant receives wastewater from some of these facilities.
In 2007, one of the manufacturers notified the EPA that it had unknowingly discharged perfluorochemicals to the Decatur Utilities wastewater treatment plant. This action led EPA to begin an investigation to determine if the biosolids were contaminated and if the land application of the biosolids had resulted in a potential discharge of the chemicals into the environment.
Clean Water Act rules allow biosolids to be land applied as a soil amendment and fertilizer as long as monitoring for regulated chemicals is performed.
But perfluorochemicals are a class of manufactured chemicals that, in most cases, are not regulated by the EPA and therefore the testing of biosolids for these chemicals is typically not required.
In this case, the EPA is still investigating. From November 2008 through February 2009, the agency collected and analyzed samples of public drinking water, private wells and ponds, and soil near the fields with the highest levels of biosolids application to better understand human and environmental exposures.
The EPA has established drinking water Provisional Health Advisories for two of the perfluorochemicals – perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA also known as C8, and perfluorooctyl sulfonate, PFOS.
These Provisional Health Advisory levels were set at 0.4 parts per billion for PFOA, and 0.2 ppb for PFOS.
Four of six private drinking water wells tested exceeded the Provisional Health Advisory for PFOA, and the residents were provided with bottled water and then connected to the public water supply system.
Regarding soil contamination, in October 2008, results from the EPA Office of Research and Development on soil and sludge samples collected from two of the biosolids application sites and from the Decatur Utilities facility indicated relatively high levels of perfluorochemicals.
Decatur Utilities decided to stop land application of biosolids in November 2008 after learning of these levels.
In March, 30 soil samples were taken near high biosolids fields. Test results are expected in June.
In the Decatur area, several companies now manufacture or have manufactured perfluorochemicals. According to a 2007 article in the American Chemical Society journal “Environmental Science and Technology, 3M produced PFOA at its Decatur plant from 1999 to 2000, and PFOA was used by Dyneon LLC, a wholly owned 3M subsidiary, until 2004.
In 2004, several Decatur residents who lived near the 3M plant filed suit against 3M alleging that environmental tests revealed high levels of perfluorinated chemicals in their soil. Also in 2004, EPA officials signed an agreement with 3M and Dyneon in which the companies agreed to monitor soils on their property and other potential sources of the perfluorochemicals.
In 2007, a 3M spokesman told Environmental Science and Technology that that the company managed its own industrial wastes, and process wastewater did not enter the public system.
But, Daikin America, the other major Decatur perfluorochemical manufacturer, discharged process wastewater to the municipal waste treatment plant in the past, Daikin spokesperson Marilyn Irving-VanOrden told the journal.
In January 2008, Daikin Industries head office in Osaka, Japan announced that by the end of 2012 Daikin and its subsidiaries intend to stop manufacturing, using and selling water and oil repellent products made using perfluorooctanoic acid.
PFOA is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals, persistent in the environment, and is detected in the blood of Americans in the low parts per billion range, where it has been linked to infertility. In people with higher exposures, PFOA is linked to birth defects, increased cancer rates, and changes to lipid levels and the immune system.
PFOA has been detected in industrial waste and consumer products including stain resistant carpets, microwave popcorn bags, and food packaging. PFOA is also found in food and water.
The 3M Company also is the largest worldwide producer of PFOS chemicals. 3M stopped manufacturing PFOS chemicals in December 2000 because of concerns about their persistence in the environment and long-term health and environmental effects. PFOS does not biodegrade in the environment and the occcurrence of perfluorooctane sulfonate in the tissues of humans and wildlife is well documented.
At present, there are no federal guidance values for perfluorochemicals for livestock watering, meat or milk consumption, surface waters or soils. The drinking water guidance values do not represent values that may pose a risk to livestock or to human consumption of meat, milk or exposure to soils.
Currently, the USDA and FDA are conducting an investigation of the potential impact of the perfluorochemical contamination on livestock and food products in the Decatur area.