May 30, 2023

Adam Nordell and his wife Johanna bought Songbird Farm in Maine back in 2014 with the hopes of raising organic produce and a family.

Seven years later, they learned their land was riddled with chemicals called PFAS, a family of thousands of toxic compounds known as “forever chemicals” because of how long they last in the environment. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been used for decades since their introduction in the mid-1900s. They were integral components of the Teflon used in nonstick cookware, waterproof fabrics and even cosmetics. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to numerous health issues such as kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage and high cholesterol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The toxins at Songbird Farm were traced to sludge — the solids left after wastewater is treated — that was spread as fertilizer in the 1990s.

“It contained a whole host of industrial chemicals,” Adam Nordell told CBS News.

He said tests found that their water and some crops had dangerously high levels of PFAS. His family was also exposed, and the levels in their blood was 250 times higher than average, he said.

“Living with the exposure is terrifying,” Adam Nordell said. “I feel like I have a poorly wired time bomb inside of me.”

He has turned from working his farm to pushing for new laws to help other farmers with dreams spoiled by forever chemicals.

A recent study estimated that sludge, like what was applied at Songbird Farm, has also been spread on 5% of all farmland in the U.S. But not all sludge contains toxic chemicals.

The Food and Drug Administration told CBS News in an email that the U.S. food supply is “among the safest in the world,” adding that it regularly tests food products, and that very few have detectable levels of PFAS. Those that do have them have low levels, the FDA said.

Elsie Sunderland, a member of the Harvard Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, studies PFAS pollution. She said the government’s approach toward PFAS is “ambitious yet fragmented.”

“If we’re really concerned about this, concerned about PFAS and our everyday exposure, we should be proactive and we should be banning these chemicals from non-essential uses,” she said.

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