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‘Escaping PFAS is nearly impossible’: Nearly half of US tap water tainted with forever chemicals

Drinking water across the US was found to be contaminated with PFAS.
Drinking water across the US was found to be contaminated with PFAS. Copyright Unsplash
Copyright Unsplash
By Rosie Frost
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Hundreds of communities across the US were found to have drinking water contaminated with dangerous levels of PFAS.

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Almost half of America’s tap water could contain toxic ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS, according to government data.

Testing by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that water for as many as 26 million people in hundreds of communities across the country had measurable levels of PFAS.

This is the first round of testing in the effort to check most US water systems for forever chemicals and the metal lithium over the next three years. More testing for PFAS is due to take place between 2023 and 2025 with results being published every three months.

“PFAS are an urgent public health issue facing people and communities across the nation,” Radhika Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water, said in a press release.

“The latest science is clear: exposure to certain PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, over long periods of time is linked to significant health risks.”

Fox added that the EPA is conducting the “most comprehensive monitoring effort for PFAS ever”.

Agency officials have said that this will help inform what actions are taken to protect drinking water in the US.

US government needs to finalise water drinking standards

An analysis of the data from non-profit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) discovered levels of these toxic chemicals above reporting limits at 431 water systems.

The results are consistent with another study carried out by the non-profit in 2020 which estimated that more than 200 million Americans could have forever chemicals in their drinking water.

It expects that the true scale of PFAS contamination is actually much greater than the latest testing shows.

Canva
Forever chemicals don't break down once released into the environment.Canva

“For decades, millions of Americans have unknowingly consumed water tainted with PFAS,” says Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG.

“The new testing data shows that escaping PFAS is nearly impossible.”

The EWG says that the US government must finalise drinking water standards this year and make limits for forever chemicals enforceable.

What are PFAS and why are they a problem?

PFAS are known as forever chemicals because once they are released into the environment, they don’t break down. In 2022, scientists at the University of Stockholm found them in rainwater almost everywhere on Earth.

These toxic substances have also been found in blood and breast milk and can build up in our bodies. Research has linked PFAS to health concerns like cancers, reproductive issues and developmental issues in children.

The EWG estimates that there could be almost 30,000 industrial polluters releasing PFAS into the environment in the US - including into drinking water sources.

“Communities and families across the nation are bearing the burden of chemical companies’ callous disregard for human health and the government’s inaction,” Faber says.

“This PFAS crisis calls for immediate action to ensure all Americans have safe and clean drinking water.”

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He says this means ending all non-essential uses of PFAS - including compounds used in everyday household products.

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