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PFOA Contamination of Drinking Water More Widespread than Initially Reported

After testing drinking water from public water systems around the country last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that 1% of the water samples tested were contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical PFOA which was used in Teflon coatings commonly found on non-stick household products. Besides being associated with cancer, the chemical can damage the immune systems of children and can cause other serious health issues even at low levels. But according the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the company that analyzed the water samples says that it is more likely that over 20% of those samples were contaminated with PFOA.

A Teflon Coated Pan A Teflon Coated Pan

The disparity lies in the fact that the EPA only requires public water utilities to report PFOA contamination when it is present above a minimum level, and this level is ten times higher than most laboratories can detect implementing the testing method proposed by the EPA.

The laboratory that originally analyzed the water samples reanalyzed over 10,000 samples collected between 2013-2015, including samples that contained low levels of PFOA which the EPA were not notified about. They found more than 20% of the water samples contained PFOA. While they didn't assess how many other public water systems this affects, and by extension how many more consumers are exposed to the contaminant via their drinking water, they report that the number of people affected is certainly far higher than the 7 million the EPA acknowledges are affected.

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Chemical manufacturers have pushed for higher reporting limits, voicing their concern that testing labs would struggle to measure a clean sample as the labs themselves were highly contaminated. By pushing the reporting levels for PFOA higher, the EPA is in effect providing a loophole for polluters to get away with contaminating drinking water sources, as the agency only needs to set a legal safety standard if the contamination is considered sufficiently widespread.

In 2015, after analyzing PFOA data from water samples collected in New Jersey using a far lower level of detection and reporting, the EWG pointed out that using the EPA's level of detection would have missed 75% of the PFOA contamination found by the state.

But according to the EWG: "Even with the new analysis, all of the PFOA detections nationwide exceed what the best current, independent science says is safe. That level is 1 part per trillion (ppt), which EWG has adopted as a health-based drinking water standard.

"Based on widespread exposure already occurring through food and other routes, government scientists in New Jersey and Germany say there may actually be be no safe level of drinking water exposure to PFOA and similar compounds in the family of highly fluorinated chemicals known as PFCs or PFASs. Yet the EPA has not set a legal limit for these chemicals, only a non-binding health advisory level of 70 ppt for PFOA and its close chemical cousin PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M's Scotchgard."

Yet some officials are taking the health threat seriously and are taking a proactive approach to protecting consumers from PFOA. New Jersey will be setting a legal safety limit of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA in drinking water, which although still rather high is the highest in the country.

While PFOA and PFOS chemicals have been phased out due to their associated health risks and are no longer manufactured or used in America, they still persist in the environment. Also, the chemicals used to substitute them have not been adequately tested prior to being rushed into the market to fill the void, and according to the EWG, they too are a source of toxic drinking water contaminants.

The EWG says that while the PFC contamination risk is not going to go away anytime soon, the EPA has shown no inclination to review and enforce safer limits for drinking water. The EWG advises other states across the nation to follow the lead set by Vermont and New Jersey, and take action to limit contamination of their drinking water by PFOA and other hazardous PFCs.

The Black Berkey elements that come standard with our Berkey systems do reduce Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFOA, PFOS, PFAA contaminates).  Berkey water filter Perfluorinated Chemical test results can be found here.

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