Are there ‘forever chemicals’ in the nation’s milk supply?

When a dairy farm in New Mexico was shut down last year due to contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals that have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems as well as cancer, it revealed how little federal and state regulators know about the presence of these chemicals in our food supply, according to FERN’s latest story, published with HuffPost.

As Sara Van Note explains, in Sept. 2018, Art Schaap, a third-generation dairy farmer in Clovis, New Mexico, was informed by officials at Cannon Air Force Base, which adjoins his property, that his well water had been contaminated by chemicals that leached into the groundwater from foam used in firefighting exercises on the base. “Testing by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture showed that his milk was contaminated at levels 70 times above a federal advisory health limit for PFAS,” Van Note writes. “The compounds are often called ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down and instead accumulate over time in the environment and the bodies of animals and humans.

“When Schaap found out his water was polluted, neither the state Agriculture Department nor the Food and Drug Administration had a protocol for testing milk for PFAS; they developed a test expressly for his milk. When Schaap sent his first samples to the Agriculture Department for testing, he made the decision to dump his milk in order to avoid selling a potentially contaminated product.

“Yet the effects of his farm’s contamination have rippled through the dairy industry, revealing a new vulnerability of the food supply. Most of the milk and other dairy products that Americans consume come from dairy cooperatives made up of thousands of smaller farmers like Schaap’s. In 2018, the top 50 dairy co-ops produced an estimated 81 percent of all milk sold.”