Drinking Water Crisis Update: Supplies in 43 States Found Contaminated With Harmful PFAS Chemicals
Millions of people across the U.S. have been exposed to toxic PFAS chemicals in their drinking water, according to a new report from Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group.
The report found that at least 610 sites in 43 states were contaminated with the fluorinated compounds known as PFAS chemicals as of March 2019, including the drinking water systems for around 19 million people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to PFAS chemicals can lead to increased risk of cancer as well as immune, behavioral and reproductive health issues.
The nonprofit Environmental Working Group and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University used information from the Pentagon and water utilities to update an interactive map detailing the spread of the contamination. The Environmental Working Group said that when the map was last updated in July 2018, there were 172 locations in 40 states showing PFAS contamination.
Based on the new data, Michigan tops the list of states with the most contaminated sites on the map with 192, followed by California with 47 and New Jersey with 43. PFAS contamination was found at 117 military bases across the country, due to use in aviation-grade firefighting foam. The U.S Department of Defense officials estimate that it will cost $2 billion to clean up the contamination at all bases in the U.S., Military Times reported.
"This should be frightening to all Americans in many ways," David Andrews, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, told CBS News. "These chemicals ... don't break down in our body and they don't break down in our environment and they actually stick to our blood. So levels tend to increase over time."
PFAS chemicals have been manufactured since the 1940s and are used in a wide range of consumer products, including cosmetics, paint, adhesives, food packaging, furniture and cleaning products, as well as water, oil and grease repellants, HuffPost reported. Because they take thousands of years to break down, PFAS chemicals easily find their way into drinking water, lakes and rivers, and wildlife. The CDC says that basically everyone in the U.S. have some level of PFAS chemicals in their blood, usually due to consuming contaminated water or food.
Currently, there are no enforceable federal limits for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does have a non-binding health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, the Daily Mail reported. For the report, the Environmental Working Group included all locations where PFAS were found, even if the concentration was less than the health advisory level. The organization has proposed a 1 part per trillion limit for PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
"The Environmental Protection Agency has utterly failed to address PFAS with the seriousness this crisis demands, leaving local communities and states to grapple with a complex problem rooted in the failure of the federal chemical regulatory system," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook, president of EWG, in a press release.
The EPA has recently hinted at establishing a national limit for PFAS chemicals in drinking water and released draft guidance for cleaning PFAS contamination in groundwater, while legislators have introduced more than 15 bills so far this year with bipartisan support to require action on PFAS pollution.
"EPA is moving forward with the maximum contaminant level (MCL) process outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for PFOA and PFOS," the agency said in a statement to CBS. "The process prescribed by the Act ensures scientific integrity and transparency when developing regulations for contaminants in public water systems."
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An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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