Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

USDA is committed to ensuring farmers, ranchers and foresters have the resources they need to make informed decisions for their operations. We are using a whole-of-government approach, working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies across the federal government to develop science-based tools, guidance and information that you can use, whether your operations have been impacted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), you’re looking to prevent exposure, or you just want to stay informed. 

Our understanding of PFAS is evolving through continuing research and working on the ground with farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and a network of committed partners across the country. As additional information becomes available, we will provide it here.

Learn more below or read answers to frequently asked questions.

PFAS Background

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. There are thousands of individual PFAS chemicals. These chemicals break down slowly and can build up in people, wildlife, and the environment over time. There is evidence that exposure to certain PFAS chemicals, even at low levels, can negatively impact human health.
PFAS can enter farms when contaminated water, soil amendments, or air are inadvertently introduced from an outside source (for example, from contaminated biosolids spread on the land for fertilizer or irrigation water from a contaminated water source). Once PFAS are in the water, soil, or air of a farming operation, the chemicals can be taken up by crops and livestock (for example, from livestock that graze on contaminated land or feed on grain grown on contaminated fields).

PFAS Regulation Status

EPA and states are leading the regulatory response to PFAS, and USDA is coordinating its actions and assistance based on EPA findings and guidance.  

In April 2024, EPA established enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) or national drinking water standards for six PFAS chemicals under the PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR).

Compliance with the new MCLs will be phased in over the next five years and apply to public water supply systems in all fifty states that supply drinking water to the public.  

Also in April 2024, EPA designated two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund.

The designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances now: 

  • requires reporting when specified quantities of these chemicals are released into the environment; 
  • allows EPA to hold parties responsible for the cleanup of legacy pollution; and 
  • requires PFOA and PFOS to be considered as recognized environmental conditions for certain real estate transactions. 

In conjunction with this new rule, EPA issued enforcement discretion policy under CERCLA that will focus enforcement efforts on parties that significantly contributed to the release of PFAS into the environment. EPA intends to use enforcement discretion and other approaches to ensure fairness for minor parties, such as farmers, who may have been inadvertently impacted by the contamination. 

To support state and federal remediation programs, EPA published regional screening levels or RSLs for residential, consumer, and industrial exposures to soil and water for 14 PFAS chemicals to assist with developing remediation alternatives at sites contaminated with PFAS. RSLs are not enforceable standards but used to support risk-based cleanup decisions at contaminated sites for the protection of human health and the environment. 

Information about PFAS – including exposure and health effects, regulations, and state activities – can be found at EPA's PFAS website.

USDA Programs for PFAS Support

Dairy Indemnity Payment Program

Dairy producers are now eligible to receive a payment for loss of dairy cows because of contamination, including PFAS contamination. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has updated the Dairy Indemnity Payment Program (DIPP) to address permanent milk contaminations.

To learn more or to participate in DIPP, contact your local USDA Service Center. 

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Conservation Evaluation and Monitoring Activity - PFAS Testing in Water or Soil

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers financial assistance for sample collection and laboratory analysis to provide information to producers to determine if PFAS might be present in soil or water on their agricultural operation.

This prescreening testing uses EPA-approved or state-approved field sampling and laboratory methods and is part of what NRCS calls a Conservation Evaluation and Monitoring Activity (CEMA). To learn more about PFAS testing options available through NRCS, contact your local USDA Service Center.

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Ongoing Efforts

USDA agencies are working with scientific experts across the nation to explore current knowledge on PFAS in agriculture, identify technologies and practices to address PFAS, pinpoint knowledge gaps, and guide efforts needed to enable potential solutions.

USDA is committed to helping agricultural producers address PFAS issues as the scientific and regulatory environments continue to evolve.

Find Your Local Service Center

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Visit the Risk Management Agency website to find a regional or compliance office or to find an insurance agent near you.