US Drinking Water Contamination with 'Forever Chemicals'

US Drinking Water Contamination with 'Forever Chemicals'

A recent report by an environmental watchdog group has shed light on the alarming extent of contamination in US drinking water by persistent synthetic chemicals known as "forever chemicals." The study reveals that some of the highest levels of these chemicals, called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are found in Miami, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.

PFAS are notorious for their resistance to breaking down in the environment and have been associated with various health issues, including cancer, liver damage, and low birth weight. The findings, presented by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), indicate that the group's previous estimate in 2018, which suggested that 110 million Americans could be affected by PFAS contamination based on unpublished data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), may have been significantly underestimated.

According to David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, "It's nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals."

These chemicals were commonly used in products such as Teflon, Scotchguard, and firefighting foam. Some PFAS compounds are still used in various other products and industrial processes, while their replacements also pose risks.

The EWG collected tap water samples from 44 sites across 31 states and Washington DC. Shockingly, only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on deep wells reaching 700 feet (215 meters), showed no detectable PFAS contamination. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below the limit of 1 part per trillion (PPT) recommended by the EWG.

Moreover, the study revealed that, on average, six to seven different PFAS compounds were present at each tested site, and the health effects resulting from exposure to these mixtures are still poorly understood. Andrews highlighted the concern by stating, "Everyone's really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals."

In 34 locations where EWG's tests detected PFAS contamination, the EPA or state environmental agencies had not publicly reported the issue.

Although the EPA has been aware of the PFAS drinking water problem since at least 2001, it has yet to establish a nationwide legal limit that can be enforced. The EPA announced last year that it would initiate the process to set limits on two of the main chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

While the EPA stated that it has been assisting states and communities in addressing PFAS contamination, it did not provide a specific timeline for implementing limits on the two primary chemicals.

In 2018, a draft report from a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services recommended that the risk level for exposure to PFAS chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold currently suggested by the EPA. Both the White House and the EPA attempted to prevent the publication of this report.