Purdue University Professor of Agronomy Linda Lee has received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The university says Lee is working to understand how agricultural applications of specific substances may affect surface and ground waters that feed rural drinking wells in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Along with other partners, including Virginia’s Hampton Roads Sanitation District, Purdue says Lee’s team will receive a total of more than $2.3 million for the research.
“We apply biosolids to our farmland because they’re very valuable. Plants grow better when you apply biosolids, but they also contain PFAS,” said Lee. “Right now, there’s a knowledge gap there. We don’t know if these PFAS are getting into rural water supplies and, if so, at what levels and what might be the primary transport pathways.”
Lee’s study will evaluate the levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances in land-applied biosolids, the fate, transport and crop uptake of PFAS, the levels of PFAS in local rural water supplies, as well as the ways in which climate, landscape and hydrology affect PFAS movement and distribution.
The university says PFAS are used to make everyday products like stain-resistant carpets and stick-free pots and pans can accumulate in human bodies and potentially be harmful. Wastewater treatment plants serve as conduits of human waste, and Purdue says the substances can be found in treated sludges used as fertilizers on farms as well as treated wastewater used in irrigation.
“EPA’s funding of this research will not only benefit our rural communities but will also provide valuable insight to our agricultural producers,” said Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University. “This grant allows us to collaborate with research partners across multiple states to increase the potential impact.”
Purdue cites a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that shows PFAS are present in 98% of Americans’ blood.
The grant comes less than a year after Lee secured a $900,000 EPA grant to research ways to reduce the level of PFAS in drinking water by capturing or remediating them before they leave wastewater treatment plants.