Last week, the word came down that Golden Heart Utilities (GHU) would not be selling compost in 2019. It was discovered that there was a PFAS contamination identified in the compost. GHU erred on the side of caution and decided to cancel all sales of their compost in 2019 due to this discovery.
PFAS has been in the news quite a bit lately. PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a family of man-made chemicals that are used across many industrial processes. They are also used in firefighting chemicals, primarily on military bases. There is some early research that indicates the compounds could be harmful to humans. However, this research is still recent and also ongoing.
PFAS contaminiation is a growing concern in the EPA and CDC. While initial values of contamination levels have been proposed, there is a lack of guidance in many areas such as bio-solid based composts and many other areas of potential risk. There is a need to study the impact across drinking water, watersheds, soils, processed/natural foods and other natural systems.
Fairbanks will be a participant in some of the early studies by the CDC on PFAS contamination. Fairbanks has been identified as one of eight locations around the US that will participate in an assessment study of PFAS compounds. This is good news / bad news – we’ll get local information on the impact study, but it’s also happening in our backyard. There are over 200 wells in the Fairbanks area that all ready known to be contaminated with PFAS.
Some of the initial reading we’ve done on PFAS has been quite scary. Although the impacts are somewhat severe, the identified levels of contamination could be as low as a few drops in a body of water the size of an Olympic swimming pool. The nature of the chemicals also allow it to persist for extremely long periods of time in the human body and also the environment. Possible health risks include increased cancer risks, immune system effects and possibly low birth weights of newborn children.
As for Golden Heart Utilities, we still strongly support their bio-solid compost program and want to see the program succeed. GHU has updated their FAQ on this issue and we will also continue to follow it closely. We will likely be updating this post or providing future posts as more information becomes available.
For now, the best plan in Fairbanks will be to produce your own compost. As for us, we’ve been extending the capacity of our cold compost systems this year. We will be doubling our capacity of cold compost to almost 900 gallons. Due to the unknown future of GHU’s compost, we may also start working towards aggressively hot composting this summer. We need to ensure an adequate supply of compost for our 2020 season.
If you are concerned about the ground water impacts of PFAS in Alaska, additional information can be found here. Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services also has additional Alaska focused information.