PFAS has been discovered in Michigan beef
A discovery of potentially dangerous chemicals in Michigan beef renewed calls for better pollution prevention and cleanup standards to be set.
The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) announced Friday per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (commonly known as PFAS) were found in beef produced by Grostic Cattle Company near Hartland and sold to consumers. PFAS, used in a variety of products, have been linked to a number of illnesses, like cancers, thyroid disorders, diabetes and elevated cholesterol.
Efforts are underway by the State of Michigan to ensure contaminated beef is no longer sold and consumers who may have bought it are alerted.
The PFAS within the beef came from biosolids, which are solid waste and sludge left over after treatment at wastewater plants. Companies making products with PFAS send their wastewater to treatment plants. PFAS-contaminated biosolids are then applied on crops that feed cows. PFAS-contaminated milk has been discovered in other states, but this is the first known case of beef contamination in Michigan.
The Michigan Environmental Council was a leading voice in calling for the study and testing of biosolids and has remained concerned that human exposure to PFAS from biosolids was a potentially under-recognized pathway.
“We want to be clear that, so far, this is an isolated example of beef contamination," said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Environmental Council. “This contamination, however, makes clear that human exposure to PFAS from biosolids could be a significant pathway and we should therefore ban applying biosolids that contain PFAS to crops while we await further sampling and test results."
In 2021, EGLE released a strategy requiring sampling of biosolids prior to land application and bans land application of biosolids if PFOS (a specific chemical within the PFAS family) is detected at or above 150 micrograms, which the strategy notes is not a risked-based or health-based number.
“When PFAS contamination was found in the beef, the farmer, EGLE and the administration took action to ensure public health and the environment were protected," said Megan Tinsley, water policy director for the Environmental Council. “But Michigan must fortify its strategy and create a plan to tackle legacy farm contamination, where PFAS levels are high from decades of biosolid application. It must also set standards for PFAS levels in soil, just as it has for drinking water. We urge the United States Department of Agriculture and Michigan to work together and develop a stronger strategy so consumers and farmers alike can have peace of mind."