Photo by Emma Grossbauer
Michigan grown soybeans have been ordered by state officials to be destroyed after discovering a portion of the crop had been grown on contaminated land. These beans were grown in an area that contained soils dredged from the Kalamazoo River Superfund site.
The Kalamazoo river has its own share of problems. “It has mostly dioxins from paper mills along the river and also PCBs,” said Professor Murray Borrello.
The land was not designated for farming, however in 2016 Golden Grain Farms located in Caledonia, harvested almost 150 bushels grown on the land.
The crop was bought by CHS, a farm cooperative based in Minnesota, but it never left the state, the beans have been locked up by order of the state while the situation was assessed.
More than 90,000 bushel of beans must be destroyed, even though only a small amount was contaminated. In their dry form the beans are indistinguishable and cannot effectively be separated.
Luckily, none of the soybeans were used to produce food, but this situation sparks a larger conversation. “I think this incident is another reminder about how quickly and unintentionally our food chain can become tainted with man-made pollutants,” said Tom Zimnicki, Agricultural Policy Director at Michigan Environmental Council.
Earlier this year a report was published examining the amount of Glyphosate – an ingredient found in chemical pesticide – contained within breakfast cereal. “That situation is a testament to how pervasive these compounds can be in our environment and also the growing interest/ concern from consumers about what is in their food” said Zimnicki.
Since the dawn of the industrial chemical age, humans have been using toxic substances in an effort to improve lives, while simultaneously endangering themselves and the environment. “We are no longer able to take for granted that we live in any way in an unspoiled environment,” said Borrello.
Borrello also raised the concern surrounding residents along the Tittabawassee River in Midland and Saginaw counties, in that they were irrigating their gardens with water contaminated with pollutants and therefore consuming them through plant uptake.
New on the scene is the chemical compound known as PFAS, a substance in which there is little information on due to the sudden realization of its presence. “We’re also starting to see growing concern pop up across the country and Michigan about PFAS contamination in agricultural products which is [PFAS] a relatively new contaminant on the public’s radar,” said Zimnicki.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has yet to release information concerning toxicity and exposure. Zimnicki also said, “For compounds like PFAS we are still waiting on federal guidance on the protocols and standards for PFAS exposure in food.”
With more contamination existing than any individual can comprehend, Borrello worries that “we have proliferated contamination to such a degree that we must always check and make sure that what we are doing on any property anywhere is not going to cause harm to humans and the environment.”
While cleanup efforts are strong from the USEPA, as well as state agencies, these forces may not be strong enough to fully protect residents. “Are we at such a point that our regulators are unable to protect us from simple exposure such as gardens behind our homes,” said Borrello.
This is not an isolated issue, Borrello suggests that educating yourself on the risks of pollution as well as understanding what substances are in your area is the key to remaining safe.
Borrello also said,”to get a better idea of how pervasive our environment is effected, anyone can go to epa.gov and under ‘my community’ type in your zip code and look at the map. You will find information related to air, water and land pollution.”