Little is understood about the adverse long-term effects of dangerous chemicals found in our sewage sludge– which is then used as fertilizer for local farm fields.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is worried, though, that triclosan and other antibacterial compounds used in soaps and body washes, toothpastes, and cosmetics are turning up in this sewage sludge– and might be ultimately contributing to antibiotic resistance. Because of this, in 2013 the agency proposed mandating that manufacturers demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.
As such harmful chemicals move deeper into soil, they can leach onto aquifers used by certain rural dwellers who own private drinking water wells. Water sourced from private wells is neither treated nor typically examined for contamination.
Tracy Yager, a USGS hydrologist, thinks many people obtain their drinking water from a combination of private and municipal wells.
Rain and snow can press compounds deeper into the soil, continues Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), citing a recent study that indicates contaminants can migrate deeper into soil even in relatively dry climates.
There are other sources of these contaminants, too, Yager says, as some chemical traces were found in a Colorado field that hadn’t been treated with sewage during a recent study. “Fragrances especially can get into the air from people working in the fields, or machinery that people have sat in,” she says.
Edward Furlong, a USGS research chemist and major contributor of the study, says farmers in dry areas are increasingly using sludge to implement additional nutrients to their fields.
“We’re not telling anyone what they should do, but this study gives farmers some information about what some of the impacts could be,” Furlong finishes.
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