MidAtlantic Biosolids Association

January 2024 - Executive Director’s Report to MABA Members

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With great power comes great responsibility…

The New Year is upon us, and the developments of 2022 and 2023 have propelled MABA into a seat of great accomplishment and standing as an organization and leader in the biosolids sector.  MABA’s leadership has done tremendous work to develop the historically robust educational offerings as well as its communications to inform and connect the regional and national biosolids sector and the communities they serve.  Additionally, MABA has rejuvenated and bolstered its membership, thus increasing its financial growth and stability.  The leadership has worked diligently to ensure MABA is aware of and engaged in up-to-date scientific, regulatory and legislative developments and likewise able to communicate this key information to its members on a regular basis. Furthermore, they have led the charge to create a new sister organization, the Mid-Atlantic Biosolids Foundation, with a focus on education and research, to broaden the reach and capabilities in the future.

MABA’s developments could be described as exceptional, momentous, or even, powerful.  And with this great power comes great responsibility.  And whether you ascribe to the proverb of the Spider-Man (or Marvel) universe, or rather to one of the more ancient accounts of the sentiment from the story of the Sword of Damocles, the meaning remains much the same - “power cannot simply be enjoyed for its privileges alone but necessarily makes its holders morally responsible both for what they choose to do with it and for what they fail to do with it.”

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There are great responsibilities on board for MABA, and the MABA members will be key in stepping up and sharing their interest and availability to join the committees and focus group.  Some of the initiatives taking place include:

  • The Membership Committee will work to connect with current members and reach out to the prospects.  

  • The Regulatory/Legislative Committee will work in keeping an ear to the ground of the regulatory and legislative occurrences in the region.  

  • The PFAS Focus Group will focus on new information to share and involvement in crucial PFAS research projects.

  • The Communications Committee will work to bring the MABA booth to regional conferences, and to create new fact sheets and other valuable information for members.

The Mid-Atlantic Biosolids Foundation (MABF) will pose a critical challenge and opportunity in the year ahead.  MABF was created to provide an organization charged solely with education and research, and the communication of both to the biosolids sector and the community.  As the building of MABF begins, it is imperative that MABA members consider new roles within this organization.  Some of these include:

  • The Programming Committee

  • The Research Committee

  • The Community Education and Communication Committee

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There is no doubt that MABA and MABF are poised for a strong year ahead, and although there is no proverbial sword of Damocles dangling above, the responsibilities that accompany that strength might seem foreboding or invigorating.  The challenge and reward will be in making it the latter. 

If you are interested in learning more about MABA, MABF, and getting more involved, please reach out to me at [email protected] or 845-901-7905. 

 

Biosolids NewsClips - February 2, 2024

NewsClips is filled with articles from around the region and the world. This edition includes some positive and informative articles, including an article from Arlington, Virginia, regarding their plan to start using sewage for consumer-friendly fertilizer and renewable energy.  There are also informative stories, including an article on research from the University of Alberta regarding a biosolid-based fertilizer that has improved soil and reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the forestry sector that could be useful for agriculture.  
 
Unfortunately, there are some less-than-positive articles in this edition, including articles about issues at facilities and within local communities, as well as issues surrounding concern and conversation about PFAS and microplastics. 
 
The monthly newsclips are brought to you by the MABA Communications Committee, and they are looking for MABA members who are interested in learning more about their work for the biosolids sector.  Please reach out to Mary Firestone if you are interested in checking out an upcoming Communications Committee meeting. 
 
Stay tuned for more information from MABA.  If you have biosolids news to share, please reach out to Mary Firestone at 845-901-7905 or [email protected]

Biosolids News 

MABA Region
Water tests in Steuben County show high PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in areas adjacent to sewage sludge spread
Vestal, NY (15 Jan 2024) - Water tests in parts of Steuben County show the presence of toxic PFAS—or “forever chemicals”—significantly higher in local drinking water sources adjacent to where sewage sludge, a type of fertilizer, is spread. Results show that PFAS compounds in water sources adjacent to sewage sludge usage—also known as landspreading—were on average nine times higher than in areas not adjacent to landspreading. The adjacent parcels to landspreading historically had sewage sludge spread within the last five years.
 
Saratoga Biochar Solutions thank the Governor and NYSDEC for draft permits
Saratoga County, NY (18 Jan 2024) - Saratoga Biochar Solutions announced Thursday, a Notice of Completed Application was received from the NYSDEC, for its proposed biosolids biochar manufacturing facility in the Moreau Industrial Park. The notice marks the company's successful conclusion to more than two years of rigorous exploration and review of environmental considerations and regulatory requirements for Saratoga Biochar’s business to operate safely in New York state.
 
How Arlington plans to turn your poop into energy and fertilizer
Arlington, VA (18 Jan 2024) - More dirty details have emerged in the county’s $175 million plan to start using sewage for consumer-friendly fertilizer and renewable energy. Better sludge storage tanks, improved odor control systems and anaerobic digesters all play a role in the county’s plans to turn sewage into fertilizer and harness the natural gas byproduct for energy. Additionally, while Arlington sewage byproducts already fertilize agricultural land elsewhere in the state, better equipment will make it possible to either sell the county’s biosolids as a retail product or make them available to residents.
 
Nationally
Orange County Solid Waste cancels proposed waste facility after community concerns
Chapel Hill, NC (12 Jan 2024) - The proposed facility at the intersection of N.C. 54 and Orange Grove Road would be the first waste and recycling center in the county that was not surrounded by commercial buildings. Instead, the proposed site bordered residential neighborhoods and private residences. The facility was set to be located on a parcel of land owned by Orange Water and Sewer Authority, part of which is currently used for the application of biosolids.
 
Trash talk: towns’ garbage in Maine landfills is up nearly 50 percent
Hallowell, ME (14 Jan 2024) - Another factor in the increase in landfilling of waste is sludge. In 2022, Maine became the first state to ban the spreading of sludge on farmland over concerns about PFAS contamination of soil. The addition of sludge to landfills required, in turn, more bulky waste (like construction debris, ash and soil), which companies said was necessary to stabilize the wet waste. That added even more to the landfill disposal rates, according to the report.It also resulted in lawmakers reluctantly reversing themselves — at least temporarily — on a recently enacted ban on out-of-state waste coming into Maine landfills. 
Casella seeks extension of management term of Juniper Ridge Landfill
 
PFAS relief fund could be approved in late February
Augusta, ME (16 Jan 2024) - At a hearing Tuesday in Augusta, farmers got a chance to weigh in on proposed rules that would allow any commercial farm in Maine tainted with industrial chemicals known as PFAS to apply for financial help. The source of the contamination comes from municipal sludge that was trucked to farms for decades and used as free fertilizer as part of a state-licensed program. More than 60 farms have been identified by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, as having contaminated soil and water, and under the proposed PFAS fund will be prioritized when it comes to receiving farm buyouts, if they are willing to sell. 
 
CFIA seeking public input related to fertilizers
Ames, IA (4 Jan 2024) - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is looking for feedback on a proposed per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) standard for municipal biosolids imported or sold in Canada as commercial fertilizers. PFAS are synthetic chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. They’re considered forever chemicals because they don’t degrade, and can be found in products like cleaners, leather and paints. To minimize contamination risks, the CFIA is proposing moving forward with an interim standard for PFAS in domestic and imported biosolids.
 
Clean water legislation vital to keeping county waterways healthy
Clay County, FL (4 Jan 2024) - “The Clean Waterways Act included stricter regulations related to biosolids disposal. All water reclamation processes produce biosolids. Many areas in the State of Florida produce what is referred to as Class B biosolids, which allows for the rapid release of (nitrogen) and (phosphorous). However, CCUA began investing in technology in 2006 to produce Class AA biosolids,” Johnston said.  
 
Company seeks IDEM permit for sewage sludge-producing facility southeast of Columbus
Columbus, IN (7 Jan 2024) - A land application permit seeking permission to create a sewage sludge-producing facility southeast of Columbus has been received by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). Evan Daily of Biocycle LLC, 3788 E. County Road 300S, is asking that his facility be allowed to accept dewatered biosolids and certain industrial waste products from various sources for blending. The terms “biosolids” and “sewage sludge” are often used interchangeably, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Farmers speak out against sludge processing proposal
 
Report: ‘Forever chemicals’ in northeast TN pose long term risk to region’s drinking water
Washington, DC (8 Jan 2024) - So-called “forever chemicals” linked to disease, infertility and death have been detected in 60% of rivers and lakes tested in Northeast Tennessee, findings that “cast into question the long-term safety of drinking water supplies for the region,” a report released Monday by the Sierra Club said. The report noted a pattern: chemicals were found at higher concentration in more urbanized stretches of water, particularly downstream from industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants, military sites, and places where sewage sludge is spread on agricultural lands for disposal.
 
Rapid City Council approves $147M Water Reclamation Facility upgrade
Rapid City, SD (18 Jan 2024) - The solids handling facilities, located at the west end of the site, will receive sludge from the treatment processes. The facilities include existing anaerobic digesters and a new solids holding tank, mixing digested primary sludge with waste activated sludge. A new dewatering building, equipped with screw presses, will process the sludge into a cake form for disposal.
 
Sludge compost is an increasing source of microplastics, researchers say
Los Angeles, CA (19 Jan 2024) - A team of UCLA researchers has put a new spin on the 1970s rock classic “Dust in the Wind” — only this one is grimmer and grimier than the original hit by Kansas. They found that wind picks up microplastics from human-sewage-based fertilizers at higher concentrations than previously known, and may be an “underappreciated” source of airborne plastic bits, flakes and threads.
 
Biosolids in Oneida County: What we know and what we’re still learning
Rhinelander, WI (22 Jan 2024) - On January 16, the Oneida County Board passed a resolution calling for the Wisconsin DNR to offer PFAS testing of private wells within a six-mile radius of sites where biosolids, sometimes called sludge, have been spread. It was in response to the high levels of PFAS found in private wells in the Town of Stella. No cause of contamination has been found, but the DNR is looking into sludge spreading as a potential cause.
 
Merkley pushes to research impact of microplastics on farming
Corvallis, OR (19 Jan 2024) - Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced legislation to research the impact of microplastics on biosolids and the overall health and safety of farming practices. Biosolids are a valuable product of the wastewater treatment process that can be applied as fertilizer to agricultural land to add nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure.
 
Internationally
Building a better fertilizer from wood waste
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (2 Jan 2024) - A biosolid-based fertilizer that has improved soil and reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the forestry sector could, with research, be useful for agriculture, according to one University of Alberta professor. Scott Chang’s research combined pulp mill waste with conventional fertilizer to support growth of hybrid poplar trees in northern Alberta. The idea was to develop a greener alternative to using conventional fertilizers alone.
 
From wasteland to wetland: Restoring Tennessee’s Copper Basin mining district
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (5 Jan 2024) - Across the United States there are thousands of contaminated sites where hazardous waste was dumped or improperly managed – and many of those are on former mining sites where operations were ongoing in a dark industry heyday before environmental regulations were enacted. The Clean Water Act only passed into law in 1977.
 
Reducing the Forever Chemicals in the Food We Eat
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (9 Jan 2024) - British Columbia doesn’t currently test agricultural soils for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or forever chemicals, which have been linked to serious health concerns. PFAS get into agricultural fields when the water is contaminated, if the soil was previously contaminated from a nearby factory or when farmers spread biosolids on their crops. Biosolids are a highly nutritious plant fertilizer made from the solids in human sewage. That’s right — poop.
 
Microplastics are everywhere: Is it possible to reduce our exposure?
London, United Kingdom (10 Jan 2024) - Plastics aren't just ubiquitous in water. They are also spread widely on agricultural land and can even end up in the food we eat. According to a 2022 analysis, sewage sludge, which is used as crop fertiliser, has contaminated almost 20 million acres (80,937sq km) of US farmland. This sludge contains microplastics and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), also known as "forever chemicals". A study from Cardiff University in the UK found that 86 trillion to 710 trillion microplastic particles contaminate European farmland each year.
 
CRD launching public consultation on long-term biosolids plan
Victoria, British Columbia (11 Jan 2024) - The public starting Thursday (Jan. 11) will be able to help advise the long-term plan for how the Capital Regional District deals with its treated sewage. An online engagement platform opening on Thursday will inform the long-term beneficial use of the region’s Class A biosolids, the dry, pellet-like product of the wastewater treatment process. Last year saw challenges to the region’s short-term and contingency plans for beneficially using biosolids, leading to the pellets mostly being landfilled.
Poop happens: The debate about how we manage biowaste is serious
 
Kawerau residents have had ‘gutsful’ of New Zealand’s biggest worm farm
Auckland, New Zealand (11 Jan 2024) - A Kawerau resident has described the smell wafting over the town from a nearby worm farm as like “pungent, raw sewage”. Mike Burrell is one of at least 37 residents who have complained to Bay of Plenty Regional Council over the past 10 days through its pollution hotline. He said the foul odours were coming from Ecocast Vermicast Waste Solutions plant, which processes sewage about 2.5 kilometres north-east of the town centre.
 
Freetown City Council and partners demonstrate waste to value products of the faecal sludge plant
Freetown, Sierra Leone (22 Jan 2024) - One of the Transform Freetown Sanitation targets is “to ensure that at least 60% of solid and liquid waste is safely collected, managed and disposed of”. In order to address the liquid waste element of that target, with funding from FCDO and with GOAL SL as implementing partner, Freetown City Council (FCC) has built and started operating Freetown’s first ever faecal sludge treatment plant in Kingtom in 2021.
 
Mogden sewage treatment works: Thames Water announces sewage sludge will heat homes in West London 'early this year'
London, United Kingdom (23 Jan 2024) - Thames Water has announced that around 4,000 homes in West London will be heated using sewage sludge which has been branded as a “tremendous” and “untapped resource”. Cathryn Ross, CEO of the water company, said effluent within London alone “could generate 10 terawatt hours of wastewater heat.” She added: “To give you a feel for that, that’s the equivalent of 40 per cent of Hinkley [Point] C [nuclear power station]. That’s a tremendous, untapped resource.”
 

February 2024 - Sally Brown Research Library & Commentary

Sally Brown

Provided for consideration to MABA members by
Sally Brown, PhD., University of Washington


PFAS Concentrations 

The days are getting longer and lighter. And perhaps there is hope on the horizon - at least in regards to biosolids and PFAS. Recently, I had a long catch up with Ned Beecher, former director of NEBRA who carried the PFAS burden for many years. He seems to think that common sense is winning out. This library puts that hypothesis to the test (at least a little bit). It is all about PFAS concentrations in biosolids at different times and in different places. The library starts with a repeat article. National inventory of perfluoroalkyl substances in archived U.S. biosolids from the 2001 EPA National Sewage Sludge Survey (article #1) was first in the library in 2016. Here the authors analyzed biosolids from the 2001 EPA Sewage Sludge Survey to see what PFAS concentrations were. This is before the phase out period for PFOA and PFOS began in 2002. The authors used a reputable lab for their analysis and tested for 13 types of PFAS. This was long before the extended family tree of PFAS compounds had been charted. Back in the days when Di-Pap was a term that Linda Lee (now arguably the best PFAS chemist in the Country) hadn’t even heard of. 

Here is the skinny on this paper 
PFOS 403 ±127 ppb (aka ng g-1) 
PFOA 34 ± 22 ppb 
PFDA (perfluorodecanoate) 26 ± 20 ppb 

While the authors analyzed biosolids from 32 states and Washington, DC, for a total of 110 samples. They made composite samples out of the materials analyzing only 5 composite samples. That means that they didn’t capture the true variability in the biosolids. They summed up the total PFAS concentrations (of the 12 that they analyzed) and then compared how much PFAS the biosolids contained (estimate of total contaminant based on total volume of biosolids generated) in comparison to other contaminants.

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Talk about the good old days - who reading this column even remembers what NP was? 

From there we go to the here and now. Article #2 Management of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-laden wastewater sludge in Maine: Perspectives on a wicked problem 

Takes us to ground zero. According to Ned, the problems in Maine came pretty much from one treatment plant whose influent consisted of 40% wastewater from a coated paper plant. He says that beneficial use of biosolids is at least ten years off. Here the paper focuses on the current situation in ME. Reading the abstract, it seems like Ned may be optimistic. Despite the reality of the numbers - and here is the kicker - the sum of PFOS and PFOA from the landfilled biosolids in ME between 2019 and 2022: 

Ranged from 1.2 to 104.9 ppb 

The MEAN concentration of the sum of both PFAS and PFOA ranged from 23 ± 20 ppb in 2020 to 34 ± 33 ppb in 2022 (that was the year with the single sample at 104.9). 

In other words, about 5% of what the US average was in 2001. 

Note that ME has set limits for PFAS in biosolids of 2.5 ppb for PFOA and 5.2 ppb for PFOS. Those limits are about 1% and 7% of what the national average had been. 

The authors of this piece point out that leachate concentrations of PFAS from the landfill have increased as has the quantity of leachate. It seems that there is one landfill in the state where 94,270 tons of dewatered sludge went in 2022. The landfill also expanded during this time and not just for the biosolids. I figure that they are reporting wet weight and that that is equivalent to about 20,000 dry tons of biosolids. The landfill generated 71.6 million liters of leachate in 2022, up 24% from the year before. That leachate had a mean of 1 170 ng l of PFOA in 2022 and 162 ng l of PFOS in 2022. That comes to 83.8 g of PFOA leached and 11.6 g of PFOS leached. 

Now - I took the 20,000 tons of biosolids (dry) with a mean concentration of 34 ppb ∑ PFOA and PFOS and calculated how much PFAS that contains. That totals 680 g. It would seem that there are likely other sources of PFAS besides biosolids contributing to the landfill leachate. The article is a good source of information on what is going on in ME and what biosolids there look like. 

From there we go to Michigan, a state where the sky hasn’t fallen. Article #3 Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in final treated solids (Biosolids) from 190 Michigan wastewater treatment plants will give us a picture of biosolids in MI. Michigan has instituted required sampling for biosolids and has divided biosolids into industrially impacted and non-impacted categories. Impacted biosolids are not allowed to be land applied until pre-treatment has effectively reduced PFAS concentrations. This article reports PFAS concentrations and types in all of their headache-inducing current fashion. In the newer literature PFOA and PFOS are both classified as PFAAs or perfluoroalkyl acids. This study analyzed for 24 compounds. To keep consistency across this blurb, let’s first look at the PFOS and PFOA concentrations

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And to put that in perspective here is what they found for the full suite of compounds

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Useful tidbit from this article: 6:2 FTSA is the PFAS that is commonly used as a replacement for PFOS and a potential sign of industrial contributions to the WWTP system. Another useful tidbit  - landfill leachate has a lot of PFHxA 

The FTSA in this study had a relatively low median concentration but high outlier concentrations - those outliers are markers for industrial input. 

The majority (71%) of the PFAS in the biosolids are PFAS with sulphonates (including PFSA, Sulfonamides and FTSA). Sulphonates can transform to PFOS. The mean sum of the 24 PFAS tested was 108 ± 277 ppb. How much you get as your total will depend on how many you test for. The authors here compared their results to other studies and concluded that one of the other reasons that their mean value was relatively low is that they tested ALL treatment plants, not just ones that have been industrially impacted. This paper goes into great detail on types of PFAS, family trees of PFAS, why you find certain types of PFAS in biosolids, how they transform….They also discuss the ratios of different compounds between influent and biosolids, which compounds are found in both or just in influent or biosolids. In the figure below you can see the % of samples with detectable concentrations of the different compounds in biosolids and then in biosolids and influent. Biosolids and influent are not created equal.

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I would call this a deep dive. If you like to/ can keep track of the different PFAS families and trends - this one's for you. 

Time to leave the US. For article #4 Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Canadian municipal wastewater and biosolids: Recent patterns and time trends 2009 to 2021, we head north. First order of business, 3M, the primary manufacturer of this nightmare has said that it will move on to sweeter dreams beginning in 2025. Secondly, Canada banned PFOS in 2008, and PFOA and long-chain PFCAs in 2016. In 2023, a draft report on the general class of compounds was published and concluded that the broad class of PFAS qualifies as toxic to people and the environment. Before the sweet dreams begin, we can look at data from this article. The authors sampled influent and biosolids from 27 WWTP, several of which had been sampled 10+ years prior. The first, highest PFAS in the most recent data in influent was 6:2 FTS (see above tip in blue). There are lots of other letter combinations of the different PFAS varieties detected. For example, PFECHS was detected in 100% of influent samples.

The PFAS ‘greatest hits’ in biosolids from the most recent sampling topped out with 5:3 FTCA, PFBA and PFOS (highest concentrations). The ones coming out of every plant (most frequently detected or found in > 60% of the samples) included PFCAs, PFOS, FOSA, MeFOSAA and EtFOSAA to name a few. Here is what it looks like in a picture:

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There is also a figure showing concentrations based on treatment type. Alkaline stabilization is the lowest - probably because of the high rates of lime addition. Anaerobic digestion and aerobic digestion are higher. This may be because of decreased VS and it may also be a result of microbial transformation of shorter chain compounds into the longer and more frequently measured compounds. 

The article notes that most of the biosolids sampled fall below the proposed guidelines of 50 ppb PFOS which is similar to the MI guidelines and well above the ME guidelines. They showed changes over time in influent, effluent and biosolids. The changes in biosolids are shown below. Here remember that PFOS falls into the category of PFSAs (sulfonic acid). PFOA is classified as a PFCA (carboxylic acid). Also know that most of the PFAS coming into plants are shorter chain versions, ones that we didn’t used to look for, ones that are not yet banned, and ones whose use has increased over time. The authors conclude that: Given that our samples were collected from a large cross section of municipal WWTPs, the results of our study indicate that biosolids are generally suitable for application to agricultural fields with respect to PFAS when they are not impacted by industrial sources of this class of chemicals. I found that very nice to read. 

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We end this survey with a trip down under. Article # 5 Legacy and emerging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in Australian biosolids. Perhaps my favorite part of this article is the graphical abstract:

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It actually shows per person contributions of PFAS and not in parts per trillion. A family of 4 gives the WWTP 24 mg of PFAS each year. 

This quote also made me smile: Using the population data supplied by the participating WWTPs, the mean annual estimated biosolids-associated PFAS contribution is 6 mg per person per year and ranged between 0.6 mg and 15 mg. A similar population normalised concentration regardless of WWTP, region or capacity suggests that the domestic environment provides the baseline PFAS loading. 

Here authors sampled biosolids from a range of plants, primarily in Western Australia (where Perth and fewer people are). The most common treatment was lagoon stabilization. PFCAs and PFSAs were found in 100% of the samples with diPAPS found in 94% of the samples and in the highest concentrations. The mean concentration of PFOS here was 23 ng g, median concentration of 7.3 ng g. Here PFOA was only detected in 16% of the treatment plants sampled with a mean concentration of 15 ppb. 

Some interesting tidbits from this. With a population of about 26 million and associated biosolids output of 327,000 dry tons, the biosolids contain 85 kg of PFAS. That is less than many of you reading this blurb weigh. Of that 85 kg, about 8 kg of that is PFOS, less than all of you reading this column weigh. About the same as three chihuahuas.

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I think that that is a good way to end this blurb - try to get the association between PFAS and chihuahuas out of your head. I dare you.

Sally Brown is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington, and she is also a columnist and editorial board member for BioCycle magazine. 

Do you have information or research to share with MABA members? Looking for other research focus or ideas?

Contact Mary Firestone at [email protected] or 845-901-7905.

 
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