Posted: March 30, 2023

'Forever Chemicals' persist through wastewater treatment and may enter crops.

PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a group of more than 4,700 fully synthetic compounds that are widely used in industrial and manufacturing processes and found in many consumer products, persist through wastewater treatment at levels that may impact the long-term feasibility of "beneficial reuse of treated wastewater," according to a study conducted by researchers in the college and published in the Agronomy Journal.

PFAS, often referred to as "forever chemicals," are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. They are found in a variety of products from clothing and furniture to food packaging and nonstick cooking surfaces.

"PFAS are so pervasive and persistent that they have been found in the environment all over the world, even in remote locations," said Heather Preisendanz, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "Unfortunately, these compounds have been shown to negatively impact ecological and human health, particularly because they can bioaccumulate up the food chain and affect development in children, increase risk of cancer, contribute to elevated cholesterol levels, interfere with women's fertility and weaken immune systems."

Preisendanz and her colleagues analyzed PFAS concentrations in water that passed through a water reclamation facility. They collected bi-monthly water samples from fall 2019 through winter 2021 before and after treatment. Since the treated water from the wastewater treatment plant is used to irrigate nearby crops, the team also collected tissues from those crop plants, including corn silage and tall fescue, to assess and ultimately detect the presence of PFAS.

--Sara LaJeunesse