Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Forever Chemicals Contaminate More Drinking Water Than Previously Reported

Health + Wellness
Water coolers in front of shut-off water fountains at Center School in Stow, MA on Sept. 4, 2019 after elevated levels of PFAS were found in the water. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In a new nationwide assessment of drinking water systems, the Environmental Working Group found that toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are far more prevalent than previously thought.


That includes dozens of cities, including major metropolitan areas like Miami, New York, New Orleans, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, according to the new report.

The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, tested water samples from 44 different locations in 31 states. Only one of those cites had no detectable level of PFAS, or forever chemicals as they are known since they do not degrade in the environment or body, but rather build up in our blood and organs. Some of the major metropolises that were tested had the highest concentrations of detectable PFAS in their water. The only sample without detectable PFAS was from Meridian, Mississippi, which draws its drinking water from wells more than 700 feet deep.

Exposure to PFAS increases the risk of cancer, harms fetus development and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. Biomonitoring studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the blood of nearly all Americans is contaminated with PFAS, according to the EWG report.

The EWG test looked for 30 different PFAS in the water, with most samples showing six or seven detectable PFAS, while one sample had 13, according to Dave Andrews, Ph.D. a senior scientist at the EWG, who spoke to reporters on Wednesday.

Andrews added that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set an advisory threshold for only two known PFAS in the mid-90s at 70 parts per trillion. The EWG believes that number is 70 times above the threshold for toxicity and falls short of what is needed since there are hundreds or thousands of PFAS that are known contaminants.

The EWG numbers also take into account a combination of PFAS, which the EPA does not, meaning the comparisons are skewed.

For example, a water sample in Philadelphia had 46.3 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS, but that comes from adding up 11 different chemicals that were found. The EPA only has limits for PFOS and PFOA, which tested at 5.3ppt and 7.7ppt — or around one-tenth of the EPA's threshold for concern, according to their detailed analysis.

However, the greatest concentration of PFAS contamination was taken from Bellville Elementary School in New Brunswick County, North Carolina by the nonprofit group Clean Cape Fear. It had a staggering 185.9 ppt.

"This is particularly painful as a school teacher, a parent of four children, and a mayor," said Rob Allen, the mayor of Hoosick Falls, NY, which has PFAS contaminated water, in a conference call with journalists. "Our children are unwittingly poisoned from drinking water at school."

"I'm devastated to see my children's school at the top of this nationwide study," said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, in an EWG press release. "This is wrong. I'm so sad."

The recent findings raised the ire of actor and environmental activist, Mark Ruffalo, who starred in the movie Dark Waters, about the PFAS contamination from a DuPont plant into the water of Parkersburg, West Virginia.

"Decades of chemical industry deception and government inaction and collusion have brought us to this crisis," said Mark Ruffalo, the star and a producer of the film, and a longtime environmental activist, in an EWG statement. "Nearly every American is carrying these dangerous chemicals in their blood, and as EWG's new findings show, everywhere we look, we find more PFAS contamination of our tap water. The government has done little or nothing in 20 years, so it's time for all of us to demand that our elected leaders do their jobs and pass laws to clean up this mess."

His call to action was echoed by EWG scientists, "This research reveals that escaping PFAS pollution is nearly impossible," said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG vice president for science investigations, who led the new study. "Communities and families all across the nation are bearing the burden of chemical companies' callous disregard for human health and the government's inaction. This crisis calls for immediate action to ensure that all Americans have safe and clean drinking water."

While the two most notorious PFAS that were produced by DuPont and 3M have been phased out of use, Andrews told reporters that he worries that replacement chemicals are no better and are continuing to contaminate water supplies.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks in the Rose Garden for the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 29 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Just over a month after proclaiming that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon "be down to close to zero," President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on the White House lawn Sunday that limiting U.S. deaths from the pandemic to between 100,000 and 200,000 people would mean his administration and the country as a whole did "a very good job."

Read More Show Less
Dicamba is having a devastating impact in Arkansas and neighboring states. A farmer in Mississippi County, Arkansas looks at rows of soybean plants affected by dicamba. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Documents unearthed in a lawsuit brought by a Missouri farmer who claimed that Monsanto and German chemical maker BASF's dicamba herbicide ruined his peach orchard revealed that the two companies knew their new agricultural seed and chemical system would likely damage many U.S. farms, according to documents seen by The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Washington State has seen a slowdown in the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, for now, suggesting that early containment strategies have been effective, according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.

Read More Show Less
A bushfire burns outside the Perth Cricket Stadium in Perth, Australia on Dec. 13, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP via Getty Images

By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley

2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.

Read More Show Less

By Fino Menezes

Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.

Read More Show Less