Updated: Feb 3
In September 2022, the Chicago Tribune published an investigation into dangerous forever chemicals in MWRD's (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's) biosolids compost distributed to urban farms, community gardens, and backyard gardeners, including Vedgewater and Parkways for Pollinator's sites. This biosolid compost was distributed to neighbors in Edgewater from the Edgewater Gateway Garden earlier in 2022.
The Trib investigation - Chicago’s sewage district fails to warn gardeners free sludge contains toxic forever chemicals - found that the agency has known about and downplayed, the potential threat of PFAS in biosolids it creates from wastewater sludge and failed to warn people about the toxic chemicals. EEC learned about this from the Tribune's investigation. It was promoted to us to use through the Peterson Garden Project and MWRD.
State and federal PFAS regulation has been very slow to develop because of industry pressure and testing of MWRD's EQ compost from biosolids found it was 10 times higher than what the state of Maine allowed before it decided recently to ban biosolids.
Plants love biosolids and it can be a great source of nutrients as compost. Scientists still haven't determined whether PFAS contamination makes its way into plants or into our groundwater when spread on farm fields or used as a fertilizer on parks and golf courses, etc.
EEC along with Edgewater Garden Leaders, met with a soil expert and received additional guidance and advice.
What about the beds we used the sludge on?
Continue to amend, the healthier the soil, the more resilient.
Treat it like toxic material, ideally disposed of like hazardous waste.
Mulch areas with the sludge/compost heavily, do not let it get dusty.
Other advice included:
Always ask for and receive a nutritional test when purchasing compost and soil. If they don’t provide it, then don’t get it from them.
Do not dispose of compostable plastics in local compost collection services.
Advocacy: form a coalition on this issue and educate consumers and businesses around food packaging and consumer products with PFAS for better choice making. If you are interested in doing this, reach out!
Additionally, though the Advocate for Urban Agriculture Forum, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance provided this information to EEC:
Bring in clean soil and create raised beds, ensuring the roots of your plants do not extend past the clean soil. Note that the soil will become contaminated if irrigated with PFAS-containing water.
Use more natural matter in your soil, which can lower a plant’s ability to take up PFAS and other chemicals. Natural matter includes composts and manure
Use raised garden beds with clean soil. Clean soil could be store-bought soil, topsoil, or clean fill from certified soil sources.
Add high organic carbon sources like compost, peat and manure that do not contain PFAS to garden soil. This has been reported to reduce PFAS uptake into plants.
Wash all produce in clean water and peel or scrub root vegetables before eating.
Avoid eating food, drinking, or smoking when working with garden soil to prevent the potential transfer of contaminated soil to your mouth.
Take care not to track dirt from the garden into the house.
Peel root crops and remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
Teach children to wash fruits, vegetables, and their hands before eating.
Wisconsin's fact sheet includes a few more suggestions for gardeners on the second page.
In response to the Tribune article, MWRD put out this Statement from the MWRD regarding the July 31 Chicago Tribune article, writing, "As part of the regulated wastewater community, our biosolids program follows all applicable rules and regulations of the U.S. EPA and IL EPA. With regards to health concerns, the U.S. EPA is currently doing a risk assessment on PFAS substances. This risk assessment is expected to be completed by 2024. The MWRD continues to follow and contribute to the science and will further our monitoring efforts once U.S. EPA-approved testing methods for PFAS are approved."
They also published these linked infographics and fact sheets.
EEC arranged for a compost delivery for the community and you are welcome to it! Bring your buckets, wagons, and containers to the Edgewater Gateway Garden to get some for your parkway and gardens!
Keep the pile covered with the tarp and keep using the bricks to keep the tarp down once you've gotten your haul. There is a shovel there, leave it there for others to use too.
The Edgewater Gateway Garden is at Hollywood/Ridge/Magnolia. Off Hollywood on the north side of the street between Ridge & Magnolia. Pile is to the right of the Welcome to Edgewater sign. It is 10 cubic yards from MWRD. If interested, learn more about the compost here: https://mwrd.org/eq-compost Huge thank you to Mike from BARGE as Gateway Garden leader for letting us use here as the drop site! Please be respectful of the garden and enjoy it while you are there so we can repeat this plan in the future.
As a thank you to EEC, we encourage you to donate to us for making these arrangements. Thank you!