NewsBreak: Drinking water of millions of Americans contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’

Drinking water consumed by millions of Americans from hundreds of communities spread across the United States is contaminated with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, according to testing data released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The data shows that drinking water systems serving small towns to large cities – from tiny Collegeville, Pennsylvania, to Fresno, California – contain measurable levels of so-called “forever chemicals”, a family of durable compounds long used in a variety of commercial products but that are now known to be harmful.

The water of as many as 26 million Americans is contaminated, according to an analysis of the new EPA data performed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington DC based nonprofit.

Studies have linked the chemicals to cancers, immunodeficiencies, reproductive harms and developmental effects in children.

Scientists and environmental advocates have increasingly warned about the harms of chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in recent decades, leading to an agreement between the the EPA and chemical manufacturers such as DuPont and 3M to phase out PFOA by 2015.

However, lasting pollution of the environment and human bodies with forever chemicals continues. Studies show nearly all Americans have some level of PFOA, PFOS, and similar chemicals, scientifically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), circulating in their bodies. Additional analyses calculate that hundreds of millions of Americans are likely exposed through drinking water contamination.

But, the EPA’s testing program, part of a 27-year-old effort to sample the nation’s drinking water for unregulated chemicals, offers the most robust look into exactly which communities are polluted. The data released Thursday is the first round of a program that will test most US water system serving more than 3,300 Americans for 29 different forever chemicals, along with the metal lithium, over the next three years.

This first batch, which analyzed data from about 2,000 systems across the country, already spells trouble.

According to the data, 170 water systems found some level of PFOS in their drinking water, while 156 found PFOA. That means about one-in-10 drinking water systems contain the two most notoriously dangerous forever chemicals.

When including all 29 forever chemicals, the data confirm that the drinking water of approximately 26 million Americans is contaminated, according to the EWG non profit. The data is also “consistent” with a 2020 study from the group that calculated more than 200 million Americans could have some form of PFAS in their drinking water.

“For decades, millions of Americans have unknowingly consumed water tainted with PFAS,” said Scott Faber, senior vice-president for government affairs at EWG said. “The new testing data shows that escaping PFAS is nearly impossible.”

The EPA says the testing program is part of a holistic effort to address forever chemicals. In March, the agency proposed new regulations to limit PFOA, PFOS, and several other sister chemicals in drinking water. That followed updates to the agency’s scientific findings in recent years dramatically lowering the amount of the chemicals considered safe in drinking water.

In a press release, agency officials said the new monitoring data will further help inform what actions to take to protect drinking water.

“PFAS are an urgent public health issue facing people and communities across the nation. 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,” Radhika Fox, EPA assistant administrator for wWater, said in the release. “EPA is conducting the most comprehensive monitoring effort for PFAS ever, at every large and midsize public water system in America, and at hundreds small water systems.”

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