PFAS Contamination

Toxic PFAS chemicals contaminate lakes and rivers of Northeastern Tennessee

America’s rivers are a vital source of life for people and natural places. They provide drinking water, irrigation for food crops and habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures. But our rivers are also used to dump wastes, including treated sewage waste, industrial discharge and storm runoff. These practices spread nutrients and manmade chemicals into rivers and lakes. This increasingly threatens drinking water and the environment.
The problem is sadly apparent with the Sierra Club Tennessee’s recent study that detected toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in rivers and lakes of Northeastern Tennessee. PFAS chemicals are a growing concern for people and the environment. The chemicals cause cancer, liver damage, and a host of other health damages.
Members of Sierra Club Tennessee collected 20 water samples from lakes and rivers, and two samples from drinking water in the northeastern corner of the state. We found PFAS contamination in 60 percent of the surface water samples we collected around Kingsport and Johnson City, with higher levels measured downriver from known industrial sites, including the Holston Army Ammunition Plant.

View full reports:

NETN PFAS Testing Public Summary Report - December 2023
NETN PFAS Surface Water Sampling Report - December 2023

Testing reveals high levels of PFAS in Tennessee fertilizer

Music City Gold is a home fertilizer made with Nashville sewage waste

 Nashville, TN – A new report released today by Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility found troubling concentrations of toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or “PFAS” in a home fertilizer sold to Nashville residents. Music City Gold is marketed as an “all natural” and “organically rich” fertilizer. But advocates say the product should not be sold to home gardeners due to the discovery that these products also contain high concentrations of PFAS and other persistent chemicals.

While the federal government and state of Tennessee are scrambling to identify and control industries responsible for PFAS pollution, practices like the reuse of sewage waste or “biosolids” effectively recycle pollution from homes and industries back into food crops on farms and home gardens. The samples of Music City Gold had similar concentrations to a broader study of home fertilizers conducted by Sierra Club and the Ecology Center in 2021. All three samples analyzed had concentrations of one key chemical, PFOS, that exceed a screening level set by the state of Maine for sludge use. Maine has halted all sales and land application of sewage waste as a way to contain the PFAS pollution crisis. 

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