PFAS in biosolids fertilizer sparks damages lawsuit
By News Editors // Feb 29, 2024

Washington, DC — The first in what may be a tidal wave of product liability lawsuits has been filed against a major manufacturer of biosolids-based fertilizer for damages caused by toxic chemicals they contain. Fertilizers produced from sewage sludge have dangerous levels of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), according to laboratory testing arranged by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and thus present a major threat to American agriculture and public health.

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Five farmers from Johnson County, Texas, filed a lawsuit this week against Synagro Technologies, Inc. and its Texas affiliate. The lawsuit alleges that Synagro’s biosolids-fertilizer contains high levels of PFAS that poisoned them, killed their livestock, polluted their water, and rendered their property worthless. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), several of the PFAS found in the biosolids and on the farms are so toxic to humans that there are no safe levels of them.

The concentrations of PFAS in the soil, water, and fish and calf tissue from these farms were stunningly high; for example, there were 610,000 ppt of PFOS in a stillborn calf liver, and 57,000 and 74,000 ppt of PFOS in two fish samples.

Synagro’s biosolid fertilizer was produced from sewage sludge that Synagro purchased from the water treatment plant serving the City of Fort Worth. Synagro makes approximately 26,500 tons of fertilizer each year at that location and claims to have approximately 1,000 such contracts with water treatment plants across North America. It manages 6.5 million tons of biosolids annually.

“Similar instances of PFAS poisonings of farms, dairies, and ranches have occurred in several states,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pointing out that Maine has outlawed land application of biosolids after more than 60 farms were found to have unsafe levels of PFAS contamination. “This lawsuit against Synagro will likely be the first of many.”

Filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland, where Synagro is headquartered, the suit alleges that the company falsely markets its biosolids fertilizers as safe and organic and failed to warn purchasers of the risks associated with PFAS exposure.

“Although civil and criminal sanctions at both the state and local levels are available, the PFAS biosolids problem calls for a national solution,” added Bennett, noting that Johnson County, Texas, has also opened a criminal investigation into Synagro over these events. “Unfortunately, EPA has yet to act to protect consumers and farmers from these avoidable toxic exposures.”

The suit was brought by the Austin, Texas firm of Guerrero & Whittle PLLC in partnership with the Baltimore firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

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