Quantcast
Health
Toxic fluorinated chemicals in tap water and at industrial or military sites. Environmental Working Group

Fluorinated Chemical Pollution Crisis Spreads

Two decades after pollution from highly toxic fluorinated chemicals was first reported in American communities and drinking water, the number of known contamination sites is growing rapidly, with no end in sight.

The latest update of an interactive map by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University documents publicly known pollution from so-called PFAS chemicals at 94 industrial or military sites in 22 states. When the map was first published 10 months ago, there were 52 known contamination sites in 19 states. The map and accompanying report are the most comprehensive resources tracking PFAS pollution in the U.S.


"With the alarming spread of known PFAS contamination sites, it's unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency has taken only the most feeble steps to respond to the crisis," said Bill Walker, an investigative editor at EWG, which has studied the family of fluorinated chemicals for 20 years. "States are stepping up to set cleanup standards, but a national crisis demands a national response. It's only a matter of time until another American community learns that its water is contaminated with these highly toxic chemicals."

PFAS chemicals, used in hundreds of consumer products, have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems. The two most notorious members of the family—PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon, and PFOS, formerly in 3M's Scotchgard—are now banned in the U.S., but manufacturers have replaced them with chemically similar, largely untested compounds that may be no safer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS chemicals contaminate the blood of virtually all Americans.

"This updated map demonstrates the scale of PFAS contamination, impacting scores of communities and millions of U.S. residents," said Phil Brown, Ph.D., director of the Northeastern University research institute. "The full story of PFAS contamination suggests that PFOA and PFOS remain significant pollutants even though they are no longer produced in the U.S. Drinking water supplies should be tested not just for these legacy contaminants, but for their replacement chemicals that may become major public health hazards as well."

Much of the increase in contamination sites is in Michigan, where a virtual explosion of known sites has made the state the current hotspot of the PFAS crisis. North of Grand Rapids, one private well near a former Wolverine Worldwide tannery has almost 60,000 times as much PFOS and PFOA as the best independent research says is safe. About 10 miles away, a woman who lives across the street from a Wolverine dump site has 750 times as much PFOS in her blood as the average American.

In addition to contamination from industrial and military sites, the map also shows where an EPA-mandated testing program detected PFOA, PFOS and similar chemicals in public drinking water supplies. The EPA tests found PFAS contamination of systems serving 16.1 million Americans in 33 states. But the true extent of tap water contamination is likely much greater.

The EPA testing program, which ended in 2016, covered only a sample of small systems and did not include private wells, which together provide drinking water for about a third of Americans. More recent tests have found tap water in North Carolina and West Virginia contaminated with a new PFAS chemical called GenX, which DuPont's own studies found causes cancer in lab animals. The EPA also did not require reporting of test results above 20 parts per trillion, or ppt, for PFOA and 40 ppt for PFOS.

The EPA has no legal limits for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, only a non-enforceable health advisory level of 70 ppt for either chemical or the two combined. This is far above what studies say is safe. Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont have all set or proposed levels for PFAS chemicals in drinking water that are lower than the EPA advisory level or are legally enforceable.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Health
Mark Doliner / CC BY-SA 2.0

110 Million Americans May Be Drinking PFAS-Contaminated Water

More than 1,500 drinking water systems across the country may be contaminated with the nonstick chemicals PFOA and PFOS, and similar fluorine-based chemicals, a new EWG analysis shows. This groundbreaking finding comes the same day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is convening a summit to address PFAS chemicals—a class of toxic chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, and that are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Fern MacDougal's stand on Pocahontas Road. Appalachians Against Pipelines

Tree-Sitters Launch 9th Aerial Blockade of Mountain Valley Pipeline

Resistance is growing against the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) designed to carry fracked gas 300 miles from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia.

On Monday morning, a woman named Fern MacDougal strung up a platform 30 feet in the air that is suspended by ropes tied to surrounding trees in Virginia's Jefferson National Forest.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. G.steph.rocket / CC BY-SA 4.0

Can the Mediterranean Diet Protect You Against Air Pollution Health Risks?

Air pollution is a serious and growing public health concern. Ninety-five percent of the Earth's population breathes unsafe air, and scientists are discovering more and more health risks associated with doing so.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Increased ocean temperatures are causing Noctiluca scintillans to cause waves like these, photographed on a Japanese beach in 2017, to wash up on beaches in Mumbai. Doricono / CC BY-SA 4.0

Mumbai’s Glowing Waves a Sign of Climate Change

A recent study by Indian and U.S. scientists found that climate change might be the cause of an eerily beautiful phenomenon on Mumbai beaches, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Irma Omerhodzic

EPA Guard Shoves Reporter, Multiple News Outlets Blocked From Water Pollution Event

By Jessica Corbett

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blocked reporters from CNN, E&E News and the Associated Press from attending a summit about water pollution on Tuesday, and a security guard reportedly grabbed a journalist by the shoulders and "forcibly" shoved her out of the building.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Simulated flooding caused by a Category 3 hurricane striking Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, DC. NPS

National Park Service Releases Climate Report That Officials Tried to Censor

The National Parks Service (NPS) quietly released a long-delayed report that mentions humanity's role in climate change, which officials had removed in earlier drafts.

The report, published Friday without a press release or any social media activity from the parks department or Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, shows estimates of sea level change for 118 coastal national park sites and estimates of storm surge for 79 of the sites.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
The Murphy oil site in West Adams, LA, sits as close as 200 feet from homes and playgrounds. Sarah Craig / Faces of Fracking / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Will Gov. Brown Plug the Dangerous Hole in California’s Climate Action?

By Kelly Trout

California Gov. Jerry Brown is gearing up to host leaders from state, tribal, and local governments, business and citizens from around the world at a Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September. His goal is to "inspire deeper commitments" in support of the Paris agreement goals. He has emphasized that, on climate, "so far the response is not adequate to the challenge" and "no nation or state is doing what they should be doing."

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Launches #StrawlessSkies Campaign

As part of its worldwide push "For a Strawless Ocean," Alaska Airlines announced Monday that its 44 million yearly passengers will fly in "strawless skies."

Starting July 16, the leading U.S. airline on the 2017 Dow Jones Sustainability Index will stop distributing single-use plastic stirring straws and citrus picks in its lounges and on its domestic and international flights. It is the the first U.S. airline to do so. The non-recyclable items, which the airline distributed 22 million of last year, will be replaced with Forest Stewardship Council certified birch stirring sticks and bamboo citrus pickers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!