Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Research the Impact Microplastics Have on Healthy Farming Practices

Microplastics may be traveling through wastewater systems and ending up on our farms. 

Washington, D.C. – Today, 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. Applying biosolids to land saves money for farmers by reducing their need for phosphorus and synthetic fertilizers, while at the same time keeping waste out of landfills.

“We know how negatively microplastics impact the human body. As microplastics leave their mark on seemingly every aspect of our lives, it’s important that we invest in research to better understand just how many microplastics are found in biosolids,” said Senator Merkley. “Knowing the impacts on soil health, crops, and public health will equip us with the knowledge to help adapt our farming methods.”

“Plastics are everywhere, from the deepest parts of the ocean to the atmosphere,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “We need a better understanding of the effects all this plastic may be having on our food chain and human health.”

“Microplastics have crept into every part of our lives from the water we drink to the air we breathe to the food we eat. We know these invisible pollutants pose a serious threat to human and environmental health, but there’s still so much we don’t know. This legislation will help broaden our understanding of microplastics’ impact on farming and our food supply – and inform our response to this growing problem,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Research to study the impact of microplastics in soil amendments on overall soil health would help support innovative farming techniques to increase crop yields that benefit Oregon farmers and our environment,” said Senator Wyden. “I’m all in on the effort to improve the health of soils, crops, and our environment.”

While research is limited, studies have shown that biosolids may contain microplastics, with a recent study estimating that land application of biosolids in the U.S. could annually release 785–1,080 trillion microplastics into the environment. Additional research is needed to understand the amount of microplastics in biosolids to better understand the potential impacts on soil health, crops, public health, and the environment. The Research for Healthy Soils Act would authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make grants available to study the incidence and impacts of microplastics in biosolids on farmland.

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA-03) and Young Kim (R-CA-40).

A bill summary can be found here.

Bill text can be found here.