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Issues of the Environment: PFAS contamination bringing end to family farm in Brighton

Grostic Cattle Company
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Overview

  • Tribar Manufacturing has been sued multiple times for what many consider environmental crimes. The city of Ann Arbor sued Wixom-based Tribar Manufacturing in 2022 over dumping about 10,000 gallons of hexavalent chromium solution, a known carcinogen, into the Huron River. Tribar also uses PFAS to make metallic-coated plastic parts for cars. Tribar is also considered to be the main source of PFAS in the Huron River and the source of Ann Arbor’s drinking water.  Although they installed filters that significantly reduce the amount of PFAS they emit into the Huron River watershed, fish are still under a “Do Not Eat Fish” advisory based on past pollution. 
  • Fish aren’t the only animal that has been declared unsafe to eat because of Tribar. Jason Grostic, owner of a 100-year-old cattle farm in Livingston County, was forced to shut down his cattle business 21 months ago after state officials discovered his grain, groundwater, and cattle were unknowingly contaminated with PFAS pollution, courtesy of Tribar. 
  • Jason’s cattle ended up full of PFAS from municipal wastewater sludge that was sold as biosolids which he used as fertilizer for the grain he feeds the cows. He had no idea that the city of Wixom’s wastewater system contained PFAS directly from Tribar Manufacturing, but it was too late. Beef from his cattle had such high levels of PFAS that they were deemed unfit to eat. Because of the persistence of PFAS in the environment, his land may not be suitable again for farming in his lifetime. 
  • It’s been almost two years since Jason received the seizure notice for his farm and told that no animals or meat can leave his property. He lost all his income, and he is also responsible for caring for and maintaining his cattle until the situation is worked out. His situation is so desperate that someone started a GoFundMe page to try to assist. 
  • Jason has taken the step of suing Tribar for his losses, and he’s become an advocate for farmers across the country who are facing PFAS contamination through no fault of their own. Earlier this month he was the guest speaker for a symposium on the topic, and he says that stiff polluter-pay laws are the only way to keep Tribar and other companies that pollute the environment with contaminates from ruining lives and livelihoods. 

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And today, we're going to take a rather personal look at PFAS contamination in the Huron River and its watershed. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. Tribar manufacturing in Wixom is responsible for contaminating the river with PFAs and, in a separate incident, hexavalent chromium. Now, the Huron River remains under a "do not eat fish" advisory as a result of the people's contamination. But it's not just fish that are impacted. Jason Grostic is owner of the Grostic Cattle Company in Brighton. He purchased biosolids from Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant. He used that as fertilizer for the grains that he used to feed his cows. Well, as you might surmise, the cows became contaminated with PFAS, and the farm's been shut down for nearly two years. Jason, thank you so much for making time for us today. I appreciate it.

Jason Grostic: Yeah, thank you.

David Fair: Well, there is a lot to unpack in what has happened to you and your business, Jason. How long had you been purchasing wastewater sludge from the Wixom treatment plant?

Jason Grostic: We actually didn't purchase it. Your wastewater treatment plants hire companies to empty out their facilities and whatnot. And, basically, they offered up to the farmers for free.

David Fair: Well, there you go. So, now you're using this for free. And it's obviously a benefit over the years. And then, all of a sudden, it's not. So, how did you become aware that your cows were contaminated?

Jason Grostic: Well, the state of Michigan. Our governor did, basically, a statewide sampling of all of the wastewater facilities in Michigan that had industrial waste going into them. And by doing that, she narrowed down which plants had PFAS in them. And once they knew what facilities had PFAS in them, then they started looking at the records of the wastewater treatment plant to see where that waste had gone for fertilizer. When it came to me, they questioned doing a biosolids study. They didn't tell me they're looking for PFA. They didn't tell me they had PFAS on the mind. They just said they were looking to see how PFAS flows to the soil and how plants took it up. And I'm like, "Yeah, fine. I got nothing to worry about. It's research. And I think your research is great."

David Fair: And you did not know that there might be consequences to allowing the state to do that. What restrictions did they place on your farm once the contamination was discovered?

Jason Grostic: They put a seizure notice on us on January 27th of 2022, which meant none of my beef could leave the facility in any form. I couldn't sell to the public. I couldn't stay out of the stockyards. I couldn't do nothing with it. And then, the state did a public notice on the 28th of January to inform the public and all of my customers and did a recall on any of my beef that was out in the public. I could technically sell grain if the grain elevators were willing to buy it. And when we approached the grain elevators about it, they said there is no way they could justify buying it. And then later on, the state has then decided that, "Yeah, you can't grow any crops on your land either." So, I'm basically two years into a seizure notice with zero income.

David Fair: You are listening to Issues of the environment on 89 one WEMU. And today, we're talking with Jason Grostic. He is owner of Grostic Cattle Company in Livingston County. As you just heard him say, he's been shut down for nearly two years because of PFAS contamination emanating from tribe, our manufacturing in Wixom. Now, the state had said you were the only farm in Michigan with a PFAS contamination crisis. That seems suspect, given how widespread PFAS contamination is. I know there are other agricultural operators in other states dealing with PFAS contamination. Have you been having conversations with some of them?

Jason Grostic: Yes, I actually have conversations with a lot of--well, I shouldn't say a lot. I mean, it's just a handful of us. I've met up with a gentleman in New Mexico. They had a dairy herd that was contaminated, a couple from Colorado that had a contaminated farm, and several in Maine. MSU and Maine put together a symposium where Maine came to MSU, and they brought a bunch of these farmers that I have conversations with and did a farmer panel.

David Fair: They're all facing similar repercussions as you are?

Jason Grostic: Well, no, because all the other states are being helpful. Michigan is one of the few states that refuses to do any help for their farmers. Maine has actually put aside $70 million of local funding to support their farmers and give them back to farming. New Mexico actually did a lot of funding for that farmer out there to keep him viable for three years until they figured out what they're going to do with his herd. And, here in Michigan, they've done nothing. They don't do any more testing. They do absolutely nothing.

David Fair: Has the state provided any assistance to you or your farm or your herd in the months since they've imposed the sanctions?

Jason Grostic: They buy clean feed for me, so they've given me a grant to buy, feed and straw with. But as far as paying my bills, paying taxes, you know, insurances, mortgages, any of that stuff, no. I've received nothing.

David Fair: And again, you mentioned it's been almost two years. And in addition to all of those expenses, you are now confronted with paying without this source of income. You still have to take care of your herd, don't you?

Jason Grostic: Yes. I work every day on the farm. I put my kids on the bus. And 8:00 in the morning. I walk in the barn and start feeding cows and scraping yards and that and barns and hauling manure. And well, now, you know, here we are in the winter time. So, this morning, we were thawing out frozen waters and doing all that stuff. And, yeah, I do all of that with zero income.

David Fair: How long is that sustainable?

Jason Grostic: We're getting close to filing bankruptcy. We sold every piece of equipment we didn't think we needed. In June of 2022, we had an auction and sold off as much stuff as we thought we could get rid of to put money in the bank. And that money is running out fast. It's down to just a few months' worth of income.

David Fair: Once again, our conversation with Grostic Cattle Company owner Jason Grostic that continues on WEMU's Issues of the Environment. So, the state isn't being of much help. Have community residents who have learned about the situation ongoing stepped up to try and help the farm and the family?

Jason Grostic: We had people step up and started a GoFundMe page and got some support through a GoFundMe page. We had a company up in Davison called The Faded Fabric. They've developed some kind of funny t-shirts that get sold as a fundraiser--that we get the majority of the money off the sales of those back for support. I hooked up with the the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network out of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. They've helped me with a lot of support. And the Legislature and I, we've gone to Lansing and lobbied the legislation to push some bills through to try and get support for farmers and other people contaminated by PFAS.

David Fair: Do you think Michigan should have stricter polluter pay laws and that perhaps you may have been spared operational shutdown if that was in place?

Jason Grostic: Oh, 100% I believe that that would have been a huge difference. And that's part of the push that we've got going on right now with some bills that we're trying to get pushed through up there as polluter pay and turn the tap off and stop using PFAS. We're teamed up with those guys in Ann Arbor. We're pushing hard and fighting to try and get something to change, because I know I'm not the only one. I'm the first one, but I'm definitely not the last one.

David Fair: And you are suing Tribar Manufacturing for what has happened to your cattle and your farm operations. Where does that stand at the moment?

Jason Grostic: Well, I hate to say it, but the judicial system in Michigan, in Livingston County--it's not good. We've had one mediation with them, and Tribar said they owe us nothing. Tribar changed court systems and took it out of the court that it was in and put it in the business court and hired new attorneys. And, more or less, it's kind of sitting on a hiatus. It's not moving anywhere as far as I'm concerned.

David Fair: Do you see a path to surviving and becoming operational again, absent some sort of settlement or lawsuit in your favor?

Jason Grostic: No, no. We'll never be able to farm again. We've already settled that conclusion that that's off the books that are never it'll never happen. You know, I was selling meat directly to the public. We had a great clientele. We had 100, 125 customers all the time that we were dealing with. And I actually had some of those customers call me up after all of this and call me a murderer. So, I will never be viable to do that again.

David Fair: I can't imagine both the emotional toll that this has taken from a family standpoint, but as a business owner as well. So, where do the Gostics go from here?

Jason Grostic: Well, the fact that all we have to do is go down now. It's pretty tough to ever try to go up. You know, we've kicked around different ideas of trying to do stuff with the farm. Can we do steam engine shows or antique tractor shows or can we do a wedding venue? But when you have no money, it's hard to do anything to move forward. You know, this whole thing has put me in a position of making no income, but yet taking care of a farm, you know, it's tough. When the seizure notice was served, we were about 120 animals on the farm. And we're 180 now.

David Fair: And they are largely unsaleable. Correct?

Jason Grostic: Yeah. The government will never let them be sold. Quite frankly, it's going to come down to they're going to get destroyed.

David Fair: Do you see a potential move in the future that may take you away from Michigan and the troubles that it's caused you?

Jason Grostic: No. We have too much family here. We will most likely end up sticking it out where we're at. We'll just have to find new things to do.

David Fair: With all that is before you, can you see a point where you somewhere emotionally come to terms with this and can find more peace? Because I can hear the frustration right at the tip of your tongue.

Jason Grostic: No, we are on a 100-plus-year-old family farm that I failed and lost due to some corporation's lack of care to the public damage. There's no getting over this. This has ruined my life, and I'll never get over it. It's taken away everything I've ever worked for or that my family's worked for. And for what? So, the major corporation and the auto industry could have high profits. Life is going to be miserable from here on out because we don't get to do what we do.

David Fair: I'm sorry that you're enduring this. I'm sorry for you and your family.

Jason Grostic: Thank you.

David Fair: That is Jason Grostic. He is owner of the Grostic Cattle Company in Livingston County. For now, it has been shut down for nearly two years because his cows were contaminated with PFAS from Tribar Manufacturing in Wixom. If you'd like more information on the situation, you can pay a visit to our website at WEMU dot org. And we'll get you all linked up. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. We bring it to you every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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