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PFAS in Crops, Gardening, and Food
PFAS in Crops, Gardening, and Food
Is the general food supply safe?
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) works with the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) to identify any agricultural facility impacted by a known PFAS groundwater plume.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the results of their national food sampling for PFAS. The FDA stated "While no PFAS compounds were detected in the majority of the foods sampled, varying levels of PFAS were found in 14 samples out of 91, but our safety assessment determined the products were not likely to be a health concern at the levels that were detected." The FDA described their approaches, which included testing foods from specific areas with environmental contamination, foods with a greater likelihood of PFAS contamination not associated with a specific site, and other food. To learn more information about PFAS in food, visit the FDA's PFAS website.
What about food produced under Michigan's Cottage Food Law?Michigan's Cottage Food Law, PA 113 of 2010, exempts a "cottage food operation" from the licensing and inspection provisions of the Michigan Food Law. Under this law, some products can be produced in a home kitchen for direct sale to customers at farmers markets, farm markets, roadside stands or other direct markets. If you have been notified by MDHHS or your local health department that levels of PFOA and PFOS above the state drinking water criteria have been found in your water sample, you should not use your water for preparing cottage foods, unless it is filtered by a system certified to reduce PFOA and PFOS.
What about bottled water?Under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), source water quality is regulated by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and water for bottling must meet drinking water standards, including the seven PFAS compounds. The bottling facilities and their equipment are regulated by MDARD under the Food Law to ensure sanitary conditions.
Will crops or gardens be contaminated if they are grown in soil or irrigated with water containing PFAS?
At this time, we do not have enough research to predict how much PFAS will end up in a specific crop, and there are not federal standards for PFAS levels in plants. Plant uptake of PFAS appears to vary according to a number of factors, such as: a) the concentration of PFAS in the soil and water; b) the type of soil; c) the type of plant being grown; d) the plant part that is used for food or feed; and e) other nutrients and components in the soil.
More research is needed to quantify the amount of PFAS that could accumulate in plants grown in soils or irrigated with water contaminated with PFAS, and to determine standards for safe levels. Since people eat a variety of foods, the risk from the occasional consumption of produce grown in soil or irrigated with water contaminated with PFAS is thought to be low. However, because these chemicals can accumulate in the body and people can be exposed from a variety of sources, it is recommended to avoid or minimize known PFAS exposures whenever possible.
If you are concerned that your water may contain PFAS and you are on municipal water (meaning, you receive a water bill), view the results of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE's) 2018 statewide public water supply sampling effort. (This site also contains results from sampling of schools on their own wells, and many child care centers and Head Start Programs). If you are concerned that your water may contain PFAS and you are on a private well, learn how you can take and analyze your own residential water sample. For other questions, contact the State of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Drinking Water Hotline at 844-934-1315.
In the meantime, use rainwater, filtered water, or water from another safe source for your garden. Another option is to plant a garden in raised beds that contain new, clean soil, while using clean water for seedlings and garden plants for the entire growing season. Wash the produce in clean water after harvesting. It is recommended that you peel and wash root vegetables before eating them.
In summary, we are not able to determine a "safe" level of PFAS in soil, irrigation water, or groundwater for gardening at this time. The best we can do is identify ways to decrease the exposure of garden plants to PFAS, which would include the following:
- If the irrigation water contains PFAS switch to rainwater, filtered water, or water from another safe source for your garden.
- If the soil contains PFAS create raised beds with clean soil, underlaid with heavy-duty landscape fabric (polypropylene is a good choice). Ensure the roots of your plants do not extend past the clean soil.
- If the groundwater contains PFAS ensure the roots of your plants do not extend into the groundwater.
- Add clean organic matter to the soil (uncontaminated peat, manure, or compost). Studies have shown that as soil organic matter increases plant accumulation of PFAS decreases.
Can water containing PFAS be used for canning vegetables or fruits?Only safe drinking water should be used for canning vegetables or fruits. Water not meeting the drinking water standards should not be used for preparing, cooking, or preserving food.
Are PFAS still used for packaging foods like microwave popcorn?The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directed that food companies stop the use of PFAS with chain lengths of eight or more carbons (a specific group of PFAS that includes PFOS and PFOA) for paper and paperboard food contact materials in 2010. This includes fast-food wrappers, to-go boxes, microwave popcorn bags, and pizza boxes. Some other PFAS chemicals are still allowed for these materials; however, FDA regulates and limits the amount manufacturers can use and for what specific purposes.