Composting has gained significant popularity as a sustainable practice that reduces waste and enriches soil health. However, as we become more conscious of potential environmental hazards, it's essential to understand the impact of certain contaminants on our compost bins. In recent years, concerns have been raised about the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in compost, posing potential risks to human health and the environment. In this article, we will delve into the topic of PFAS in your compost bin, shed light on their sources, explain the associated risks, and offer practical solutions for composting safely.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of human-made chemicals used in various industrial and consumer products. They have been widely used due to their unique properties, such as water and stain resistance. PFAS can be found in items like non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, food packaging, and even firefighting foams.
The Presence of PFAS in Compost
The presence of PFAS in compost is primarily linked to the use of biosolids in the composting process. Biosolids, also known as sewage sludge, are nutrient-rich organic materials derived from wastewater treatment processes. While biosolids contribute to the overall nutrient content of compost, they can also contain trace amounts of PFAS.
The Risks of PFAS in Compost
Environmental Risks: PFAS can persist in the environment for extended periods and have the potential to bioaccumulate in plants. If contaminated compost is used in gardening or agriculture, PFAS may be taken up by plants and enter the food chain, posing risks to ecosystems.
Human Health Risks: While the direct health effects of PFAS exposure through compost are not yet fully understood, studies have associated PFAS exposure with adverse health outcomes, including reproductive issues, liver damage, and certain types of cancers. However, it's important to note that the levels of PFAS found in compost are typically much lower than in direct exposure scenarios.
Composting Safely to Minimize PFAS Exposure
Source Separation: Minimize the introduction of PFAS into your compost by practicing source separation. Avoid adding items like non-stick cookware, food packaging, and textiles treated with PFAS to your compost bin.
Choose Organic: Opt for organic or locally sourced compost materials that have not been treated with biosolids containing PFAS. This can significantly reduce the potential contamination of your compost.
Monitor Your Compost Sources: If you are unsure about the quality of your compost materials, reach out to your compost supplier or local waste management authorities to inquire about their practices regarding PFAS and other contaminants.
Test Your Compost: Consider conducting tests to assess the quality of your compost. This can help identify any potential contamination issues, including the presence of PFAS.
While composting remains an eco-friendly practice, it is crucial to be aware of potential contaminants such as PFAS. By understanding the sources and risks associated with PFAS in compost, we can take informed steps to mitigate exposure and promote safer composting practices. Remember to practice source separation, choose organic compost materials, and monitor and test your compost regularly to ensure a healthier and more sustainable composting process. Let's continue composting responsibly for the benefit of both our gardens and the environment.
By implementing these measures and staying informed about PFAS and its presence in compost, we can contribute to a healthier ecosystem and protect ourselves and future generations from potential risks. Composting is a valuable tool for waste reduction and soil enrichment, and with proper care, it can continue to be a sustainable practice that benefits both our gardens and the environment. Let's Go Compost is proud to offer free worm compost bins to the community. Click here to sign up for yours.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Basic Information on PFAS. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2021). Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/chemicals/per-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2021). Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp200.pdf
Panko, J. (2021). The Fate of PFAS in the Composting Process. Environmental Health Perspectives, 129(4), A76-A83. doi:10.1289/ehp8231
Anderson, E. L., O’Bryan, C. A., & Luthy, R. G. (2020). Understanding Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Biosolids and Their Potential Impacts on Soil Microorganisms. Environmental Science & Technology, 54(14), 8424–8438. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b07625