FFAR Grant Addressing Surface and Groundwater Pollution on Farms



  • Sustainable Water Management

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemical compounds used in hundreds of applications including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, cleaning products and fire-fighting foams. Due to their high thermal stability, resistance to chemical degradation and related waste disposal, PFAS is an environmental concern. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $316,000 grant to Stroud Water Research Center (Stroud Center) to address PFAS-related surface and groundwater pollution on farms. Matching funding was provided by the Stroud Center and the Science Technology and Research Institute of Delaware (STRIDE) for a total $632,231 investment.

In the life cycle of PFAS, wastewater treatment plants are a major end point for their accumulation and concentration. As a result, PFAS often collects in biosolids, a byproduct of wastewater treatment that is commonly used as fertilizer on agricultural lands. This can cause PFAS contamination of soil and water on farms and in our food supply. PFAS has been associated with negative health impacts such as immune suppression, endocrine disruption, elevated cholesterol and reduced response to vaccines.

By 2004, more than 50 percent of the seven million tons of wastewater treatment plant sludge produced nationally was used as biosolids, suggesting that this pathway for PFAS contamination could be highly significant. Diana Oviedo-Vargas, Ph.D
Assistant Research Scientist, Principal Investigator Watershed Biochemistry Group
One major barrier in PFAS research is that current analytical methods for measuring PFAS are only able to quantify less than 40 of the thousands of PFAS estimated to exist. These analytical methods are also very expensive. Dr. Seetha Coleman-Kammula
President of The Center for PFAS Solutions.

Stroud Center researchers, in collaboration with STRIDE Center for PFAS Solutions, are examining the occurrence and migration of biosolid-derived PFAS in soil and water on agricultural fields. The first step of this three-year study includes sampling soil and water at 25 Pennsylvania farms that have received biosolid applications. Researchers hope to obtain an initial assessment of the extent of PFAS contamination in agricultural fields across the state.

Two farms from the survey will be selected for the second step, which will be a field-based experiment where the team will track the movement of PFAS in water and soil after the biosolids are applied to the fields.

In conjunction with the field efforts, scientists at STRIDE Center for PFAS Solutions are developing a more affordable and practical analytical method for the quantification of the total amount of PFAS in water and soil.

PFAS contamination poses a significant threat to human and environmental health. This critical research conducted by the Stroud Center will help ensure our farmlands, surface and ground water, and national food supply are protected from pollution. Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

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