Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ contaminate USA drinking water more than previously known

James Marshall
January 23, 2020

The agency established a non-enforceable "health advisory level" of 70 parts per trillion for the most prevalent PFAS compounds, which are also widely used in firefighting foams.

"Forever chemicals" otherwise known as perfluoroalkyl substances - or PFAS for short - have been linked to a number of health issues including cancer, liver damage and low birth weight.

From May to December 2019, the nonprofit tested 44 sites across 31 states and Washington, D.C., for traces of 30 different kinds of PFAS.

According to the EWG, PFAS contamination had "not been publicly reported by the Environmental Protection Agency or state environmental agencies" in 34 of the sampling locations where the chemicals were detected.

"It's almost impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals", said David Andrews, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group and co-author of the report published Wednesday. Due to the fact that little or no study has been done on the health effects of combined PFAS or many of these individual PFAS found in the source water, Brunswick County has taken a proactive approach to install the most protective water treatment system at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant to remove these contaminants.

"Everyone's really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals", Andrews said.

The PFAS Action Plan, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, is a bill making its way through Washington that aims to reduce the continued exposure of humans and the environment to forever chemicals.

Low-pressure reverse osmosis is considered one of the most advanced and effective methods to treat and remove both regulated and unregulated materials from drinking water, including GenX, 1,4-dioxane and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Drinking water contamination with "forever chemicals" - present in Teflon cookware and Scotchgard stain repellent - is far more widespread than previously estimated, with some of the highest levels found in Miami, according to a study by an environmental group. If a company dumps large amounts of contaminated water, for example, PFAS concentrations would spike until that wastewater disperses.

"A single sample can be grossly under or overestimating exposure that people have to PFAS through their drinking water", Knappe said.

Utilities that have chosen to independently test for PFAS are not required to make their results public or report them to state drinking water agencies or the EPA. In Boston, testing showed PFAS at a level of 8.1 ppt.

In the places that EWG tested for PFAS, the total level varied from less than 1 part per trillion, or ppt, to nearly 186 ppt.

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