New Study Finds “Forever Chemicals” Contaminating Drinking Water in the US
A recent study conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) reveals that approximately 45% of tap water samples in the United States contain “forever chemicals” known as PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated substances). These synthetic compounds, found in various consumer products like nonstick pans and water-resistant clothing, have been linked to cancer and other health problems. The study, which is the first nationwide effort to test for PFAS in tap water from private sources in addition to regulated ones, highlights the widespread contamination of drinking water across large cities, small towns, private wells, and public systems.
The USGS report emphasizes that private well users should have their water tested for PFAS and consider installing filters to remove the compounds. Activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis membranes are effective methods to eliminate PFAS from drinking water. The study’s lead author, Kelly Smalling, a research hydrologist, explains that the information provided can help individuals evaluate their risk of exposure and make informed decisions about treating their drinking water or seeking further information from local authorities.
Although the USGS is a scientific research agency and does not make policy recommendations, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first federal drinking water limits on six forms of PFAS in March. These substances, which persist in the human body for years and do not degrade in the environment, pose a significant concern to public health. However, the study highlights that the government has yet to prohibit companies from dumping PFAS into public wastewater systems, indicating the need to address the issue at its source and hold polluters accountable.
The study’s findings also shed light on the geographical distribution of PFAS contamination, with heavier exposures observed in cities and areas near potential sources of the compounds. Urban centers along the Eastern Seaboard, Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Central and Southern California exhibited higher levels of PFAS contamination. However, many rural areas showed no presence of PFAS in the tested water samples.
It is crucial to note that animal studies have revealed potential links between PFAS chemicals and various health issues, including certain cancers, high blood pressure, and low birth weight. While the EPA is expected to make a final decision on federal drinking water limits for PFAS later this year or in 2024, organizations like the Environmental Working Group stress the importance of addressing the problem proactively by requiring polluters to treat their own wastes.
The USGS study serves as a wake-up call regarding the widespread presence of PFAS chemicals in the US drinking water supply. Taking preventive measures, such as regular water testing, installing appropriate filters, and holding polluters accountable, can help mitigate the risks associated with these harmful substances and protect public health.