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How much PFAS makes its way into crops? MSU researchers are looking into it

Posted at 8:20 AM, Dec 17, 2021

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A team of Michigan State University researchers are trying to understand how crops take up PFAS from the surrounding environment and how to prevent it.

PFAS is a class of "everlasting chemicals" that can stay in the environment for years, said Hui Li, a professor of soil chemistry at Michigan State University and he's one of the researchers on the project.

PFAS are man made chemicals used in a lot of everyday products like makeup, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam.

"PFAS is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and it's a group of chemicals, there's probably— I've heard 4000, I've heard 6000, or 8000 different chemicals in this class of chemicals," said Sandy Wynn Stelt, co-chair for Great Lakes PFAS Action Network.

"The challenge with these is, because they don't break down once we've used them, they are in our environment, and then get into our bodies," she said.

Li said that, "if you go to like the state website, you can see a long list of PFAS contamination in the soil and water but the concentration is very low."

PFAS can easily travel through our drinking water and get into our soil, which then contaminates our food and crops.

"It gets into the wildlife, it gets into the fish, the deer, we have places in our own state that have, you know, restrictions on fishing and hunting deer because of this," Wynn Stelt said.

But that's not all, this chemical bio accumulates. "It gets in your body and it doesn't just wash right out. It just keeps building and building and building until the levels get really, really high," she added.

PFAS has been linked to birth defects, liver damage, even cancer.

"These very tiny amount can cause the risk or even we don't know how much of these chemicals can get into the crops," Li said. "So that's a reason we will do the research."

Li and his research partners received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

"In this project will hire students to do a laboratory experiment to see if the PFAS in the soil enters crops," he said.

If they find PFAS is getting into the crops, they plan to work out methods to stop it. They also want relay information to farmers and the general public on how to navigate this issue.