Drinking Water for 26 Million Americans Contaminated With Dangerous Levels of PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals,’ New EPA Data Says
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released new data that shows the drinking water consumed by 26 million Americans across the country is contaminated with dangerous levels of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) “forever chemicals.”
PFAS are a group of almost 15,000 synthetic chemicals that have become ubiquitous in the environment after having been used in the making of water-repellent clothing, nonstick cookware, stain resistant fabrics, consumer products like cosmetics and in other capacities for years. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they are resistant to water, oil, heat and grease, and do not break down naturally in the environment.
Toxic forever chemicals have been linked to health problems like cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, fertility issues and obesity.
The EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR5, requires U.S. water utilities to test their drinking water for 29 distinct PFAS compounds, a press release from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said.
“For decades, millions of Americans have unknowingly consumed water tainted with PFAS,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG, in the press release.
Initial data released by the EPA said PFAS levels found in 431 water systems were above minimum reporting limits.
The toxic PFAS levels were found in all 50 states, in the District of Columbia and in two territories at 2,800 locations, but since just 29 PFAS compounds were tested, the actual scale of PFAS drinking water contamination is predicted to be much bigger.
“The new testing data shows that escaping PFAS is nearly impossible. The EPA has done its job, and the Biden White House must finalize drinking water standards this year,” Faber said in the press release.
An interactive map by EWG shows which private and public water systems across the U.S. are known to be contaminated with PFAS and will be updated with the new information from the EPA.
Additional UCMR5 PFAS testing will happen between this year and 2025, with quarterly data expected.
The results of the EPA tests revealed that cities like Denver, Los Angeles and Austin had PFAS in their tap water, as well as smaller communities in places like New Jersey and Illinois. The testing also showed PFAS drinking water contamination in areas where it had not been detected before. Some water samples even contained high levels of PFOS and PFOA — the most notoriously bad and most studied of the PFAS compounds — that surpassed proposed EPA limits.
“The initial data indicate that multiple forever chemicals are being detected in public water systems, with two specific PFAS (PFOS and PFOA) concentrations above the proposed maximum contaminant levels (the highest levels of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water) in over 150 systems,” said Elizabeth Southerland, a former EPA water specialist now with the advocacy group Environmental Protection Network, as Common Dreams reported. “It is critically important that EPA continue to release this data every quarter so the public can see as quickly as possible if their drinking water has PFAS levels of concern.”
The EPA has promised to make their drinking water standards final by the end of this year, the press release said. However, it is likely that drinking water utilities will be given from three to five years for compliance. Ten states currently have PFAS drinking water limits.
“The PFAS pollution crisis threatens all of us,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president of government affairs, in the press release. “The EPA’s proposed limits also serve as a stark reminder of just how toxic these chemicals are to human health at very low levels. The agency needs to finalize its proposal and make the limits for PFAS in water enforceable.”
According to EWG estimates, almost 30,000 industrial polluters could be releasing PFAS into the environment.
“Communities and families across the nation are bearing the burden of chemical companies’ callous disregard for human health and the government’s inaction. This PFAS crisis calls for immediate action to ensure all Americans have safe and clean drinking water. That means ending all non-essential uses of PFAS, such as those compounds used in the everyday products we bring into our homes,” Faber said in the press release.
EWG recommends using a reverse osmosis filtration system at your tap or under your sink and replacing the filter routinely as instructed if you think there might be PFAS in your water.