Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more common in tap water than thought, report says

Cottage Grove, Minnesota is home to a factory that has been churning out various PFAS since the 1950s for water- and stain-repellant products. Image Credit: Daniel Acker, Bloomberg/Getty Images

With the PFAS Action Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this past month and the Dark Waters film—highlighting lawyer Rob Bilott’s battle against DuPont—premiering last year, PFAS are gaining more traction with the public and policymakers. A new study conducted by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found that PFAS are more prevalent in tap water than originally thought. The study analyzed 44 tap water samples, collected across 31 states, and found detectable levels in 43 of the samples, with the highest levels found in Brunswick County, North Carolina and Quad Cities, Iowa.

Former STEEP researcher, Cindy Hu, weighs in on the EWG study, saying that she disagrees with how they represented the total PFAS levels. She feels that the study should look at individual compounds, like PFOA and PFOS, rather than the sum of all PFAS compounds. 

Nearly all Americans are exposed to low levels of PFAS through consumer products, such as non-stick cookware, stain resistant furniture, and water-repellent clothing, but individuals living near manufacturing plants and military sites are at greater risk of exposure through contaminated drinking water supplies. A report released in 2018 by the Center for Disease Control, show that the EPA overestimated the amount of PFAS people can safely consume, linking cancer, birth defects, thyroid disease, and liver damage to 14 different PFAS chemicals.

“The EPA has had PFOS and PFOA on their radar for quite a while. We have quite a bit of evidence to establish a drinking water standard, so it does point to how difficult it is for them to establish drinking water guidelines or phase out chemicals that cause harmful health effects,” says Laurel Schaider, a research scientist with STEEP and the Silent Spring Institute. She also urges individual states to set their own drinking water standards, in lieu of federal regulations.

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