Hidden American Water Pollution

A new study found extensive chemical pollution in American water supplies that federal, state, and local governments either don’t monitor or report or if they do.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are extremely stable man-made chemicals with properties that allow them to repel both water and oil. PFAS are used in a wide variety of consumer products, including carpets, clothing, non-stick pans, paints, polishes, waxes, cleaning products, and food packaging. PFAS is also employed in fire-suppressing foam.

Because of their stability, ingested PFAS stick around. “PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because once released into the environment they do not break down, and they build up in our blood and organs,” said American environmental health specialist Sydney Evans. PFAS is a cumulative ticking internal time bomb which may cause developmental defects in infants, disrupt hormone balances, affect the immune system, and increase the risk of cancer.

The US Environmental Protection Agency says the 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water is okay, but experts not captured by corporate interests think that only 1 ppt may be safe.

The study, by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG), “found PFAS widespread in American rainwater. PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the US.

“Of tap water samples from 44 places in 31 states and the District of Columbia, only 1 location had no detectable PFAS, and only 2 other locations had PFAS below the level that independent studies show pose risks to human health. Some of the highest PFAS levels detected were in samples from major metropolitan areas, including Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans and the northern New Jersey suburbs of New York City,” reported the EWG. PFAS “level varied from less than 1 ppt, in Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to almost 186 ppt in Brunswick County, North Carolina. The only sample without detectable PFAS was from Meridian, Mississippi, which draws its drinking water from wells more than 700 feet deep.”

The Trump administration suppresses information about pollution as a matter of policy, and local governments do not report PFAS levels.

Sources:

Sydney Evans et al, “PFAS contamination of drinking water far more prevalent than previously reported,” EWG (22 January 2020).

Reuters, “US drinking water contamination with ‘forever chemicals’ far worse than scientists thought,” The Guardian (22 January 2020).

Steven Mufson, “Donald Trump’s White House places new report linking climate change with human activity under review,” Independent (8 August 2017).