USDA intensifies fight against ‘forever chemicals’

By Marc Heller | 03/21/2024 01:19 PM EDT

The Biden administration’s request to Congress for more money to tackle PFAS contamination reflects a newly coordinated approach.

Dairy farmer Fred Stone walks to his baling machine.

Dairy farmer Fred Stone walks to his baling machine at his dairy farm Aug. 15, 2019, in Arundel, Maine. The farm was forced to shut down after sludge spread on the farmland was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk. Robert F. Bukaty/AP

The Biden administration is proposing millions of additional dollars to test for and study “forever chemicals” on farms, following warnings from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the fight against PFAS contamination could be long and expensive.

The effort, including a proposed $8 million for the Agricultural Research Service and a $10 million increase in funding through Vilsack’s office, reflects a newly coordinated approach to tackling the issue, the Department of Agriculture said in its budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

“PFAS in agricultural landscapes is causing or will cause producers manifold problems — problems that require innovative solutions that can be provided through innovative agriculture developments and partnerships,” the department said in budget documents submitted to Congress.


While PFAS — which stands for an array of compounds called per- and polyfluoralkyl substances used in a wide variety of manufactured goods — have been present in the environment and in food systems for decades, the science around their potential harm is only now unfolding and needs more study, officials say. Many PFAS have been found to be toxic even at extremely small concentrations, USDA said.