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Emerging issue: Contaminants

Image credit: Courtesy Photo
Date Posted: May 17, 2022

Emerging contaminants are chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pharmaceuticals, gasoline additives and others, that are not currently regulated but about which there are concerns regarding their impact on the environment or public health. Contamination can reach a farm through the air, surface or groundwater, or land application of soil amendments. Subsequent government actions to limit farm activities, seize farm products or designate farmland as contaminated can destroy a farmer’s reputation and livelihood. Members have developed MFB and AFBF policy calling for science-based research to determine regulations, indemnity for land and farm products, and not holding farmers responsible for the cost of testing or cleanup of emerging contaminants when the contamination was out of the farmer’s knowledge or control.

Studies on environmental and public health risks from emerging contaminants take years, and in the meantime state and federal agencies are under pressure to prevent potential impacts. Efforts to reduce the spread of emerging contaminants are underway. However, legacy contamination may still affect some farms, and indemnification may be difficult if these substances were handled according to regulations in effect at the time or if the companies that used or produced the chemicals are no longer in business. There are also currently limited mechanisms for state or federal agencies to indemnify farms and funding such indemnification can be difficult in the face of budget constraints.

Policy References

MFB Policy #83, Nonpoint Source Pollution and Watershed Management

AFBF Policy #506, Waste Disposal and Recycling

AFBF Policy #547, Water Quality

Additional Resources

Michigan PFAS Action Response Team

EPA PFAS Strategic Roadmap

BioMed Research International’s Overview of Emerging Contaminants and Associated Human Health Effects

EPA Emerging Contaminants of Concern

Thoughts to Consider

  • Should states develop standards for emerging contaminants in food, soil and amendments, or surface and groundwater before federal standards are finalized? If so, what should state agencies base their standards on? If not, what is the best way to protect the environment and public health if emerging contaminants are suspected of causing impacts?
  • If state or federal agencies determine farm products or land are contaminated and prevent their sale or use, who should be responsible for indemnification? How should indemnification be funded and paid for? Should farmers be indemnified if the standards for contamination are set by a private company such as a food processor or co-op?
Media Contacts
Laura Campbell headshot

Laura Campbell

Senior Conservation & Regulatory Relations Specialist
517-679-5332 [email protected]
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