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EPA reveals new evidence of 'forever chemicals' in drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disclosed on February 1 that drinking water for approximately 70 million Americans has tested positive for PFAS (a type of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings as well as products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water), based on the latest findings from only a third of the country’s public water systems. 

This development underscores the urgency for the Biden administration to establish drinking water standards for these toxic “forever chemicals.”

Environmental justice campaign

In 2020, President Joe Biden pledged to set a PFAS drinking water standard as part of his environmental justice campaign plan, a commitment highlighted by EPA’s recent data release. 

The 2023 tests, involving 3,700 water systems under  EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5), mark a critical step in understanding the prevalence of PFAS, with 33 percent of the systems showing contamination.

Reducing PFAS pollution 

Scott Faber, senior vice president for Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), emphasized the comprehensive measures needed to tackle PFAS pollution. 

“There are many other steps we must take to reduce PFAS pollution, including ending non-essential uses of PFAS, ending industrial discharges of PFAS into the air and water, cleaning up legacy PFAS pollution, and properly disposing of PFAS waste,” said Faber.

The proposed PFAS drinking water standard, announced by the EPA in March 2023, aims to establish science-based limits for six PFAS compounds known for their adverse health effects, including cancer and immune system damage.

Thousands of known contaminated sites 

Highlighting the extensive nature of PFAS contamination, a 2020 EWG study estimated that over 200 million Americans are exposed to PFOA or PFOS in their drinking water at levels of 1 part per trillion (ppt) or higher, despite EPA reports only acknowledging PFAS detections at 4 ppt or higher. 

The EWG’s PFAS contamination map reveals that as of February 5, there are 5,021 known contaminated sites across 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories.

Human health risks

PFAS, due to their persistent nature, pose significant health risks, including immune system suppression, increased cancer risk, harm to fetal development, and reduced vaccine effectiveness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has detected PFAS in the blood of 99 percent of Americans, including newborns.

“Every week new research highlights the detrimental effects of PFAS on human health and the environment and underscores the need for immediate action to protect drinking water,” Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG.

For individuals concerned about PFAS in their tap water, home filtration systems have been identified as an effective means of protection. EWG researchers have evaluated the performance of various water filters in reducing PFAS levels, providing a valuable resource for those seeking to mitigate their exposure.


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