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Contaminated water may impact crops and livestock

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EAST LAWRENCE, Ala. (WHNT) - Many viewers have reached out to us, asking if the water contamination will impact livestock and crops in the affected areas.

The answer isn't a simple yes or no.

Impact on Animals

We reached out to several state agencies about how the water crisis in Morgan and Lawrence Counties might affect animals. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) says the advisory should only apply to humans that are pregnant or are young, as their press release was worded Thursday.

Dr. Terry Slaten of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association directed us to a study, completed by Kellyn Betts and published by the National Institute of Health.  The study was on human developmental defects due to PFOS and PFOA exposure, but also found mice and rats, exposed to the chemicals, have experienced lower birth weight. The study also found that both compounds have been tied to developmental delays in animal studies.

To read the full study by Kellyn Betts, visit this website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2072861/pdf/ehp0115-a0550a.pdf

Dr. Chris Higgins, at the Colorado School of Mines, has researched the effects of PFOS and PFOA for more than a decade, and says the chemicals can also be found in fish within contaminated water sources. “Those levels have resulted in accumulation in fish that have been deemed unfit and that was actually before the health advisory levels came out so I imagine there will likely be an expansion of these 'do not eat fish consumption advisories' in the future as a result of the EPA recommendations," says Dr. Higgins.

Impact on Plants

Dr. Higgins says there's no way to definitely say all crops are safe or unsafe, but does have some insight on which plants are more susceptible to contamination. “The bigger concern is for a contamination of the kind of leafy parts of the plant so the extent that, that’s a problem for these crops that’s being consumed. That would be where I’m worried," he says.

That includes lettuce, spinach or any produce that is leafy in nature.  “These chemicals can come from water or contaminated soil into crops," says Dr. Higgins. “These chemicals don’t go away, so they do have the potential to build up in the soil.”

Produce that typically isn't as strongly affected by these compounds include fruits, grains, root vegetables and corn.

Professor Higgins recommends farmers who want to know more specifics on their produce should consider reaching out to a local university or a consultant for a soil test.  “I would probably talk to someone who could do some analysis of what those contaminations might mean in terms of what would be in the crops that I’m growing," he says.

With the recent changes in EPA standards, Dr. Higgins believes more research is definitely needed. “It’s hard to make any general statements about what the long term risk would be without having a lot more data," he says.

For home gardens, Higgins says he's hesitant to say it's completely safe. He says it has a lot to do with how long you've been watering your plants with the contaminated water. He says collecting rain water might be safer to use, but the contaminants have likely been in the soil for quite some time.