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Non-stick Chemical Toxins Contaminate Drinking Water of 15 million Americans

A recent study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and scientists from the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University in Boston has revealed the presence of highly fluorinated chemical toxins, known as PFASs or PFCs, in drinking water serving 15 million people across 27 states, as well as from over 48 military and industrial sources across the country.

The two research teams collaborated to develop an interactive map from a combination of drinking water data obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and readily available data on PFC contamination from industry, fire-fighting training sites, civilian airports and military air-force bases.


"This is a one stop shop to track how pervasive the PFC contamination problem is in the U.S.," said Bill Walker, co-author of the report and managing editor of EWG. "For the first time we're reporting the full results of the EPA water testing, as well as known industrial spills and sites with military contamination, to provide a complete picture of where these PFCs are detected."

The source of contamination was identified at forty-seven of the polluted sites, with twenty-one of these cases stemming from military bases, twenty from industrial plants and seven from civilian fire-fighting operations. Some sites had more than one source of contamination.

After receiving a National Science Foundation grant to study the social impact of PFASs in 2014, the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute set about investigating the impact on water quality and public health, analyzing data collected by concerned civil and military communities, who had begun testing for these toxic chemical compounds.

However, it is still very worrying that in many cases the source of these pollutants has not yet been identified, and at this stage it is also unclear how widespread the contamination may be. Currently, the EPA only tests drinking water for unregulated chemicals if the water supply serves over 10,000 consumers, and only tests for 30 chemicals over a three-year period. In communities such as Hoosick Falls, in the state of New York, where drinking water testing was commissioned by residents, PFCs have been found in drinking water. It is critical that the source of these toxic chemical pollutants that continue to contaminate drinking water is identified.

"Americans should be outraged," said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. "As we uncover the pervasive pollution of drinking water, the chemical companies have already shifted production to a similar set of chemicals that are likely no better. Federal agencies have known for decades that this entire family of chemicals is toxic and they haven't passed drinking water regulations. These chemicals do not break down in the environment and the amount of PFCs in your blood could be 100 times higher than the level of the chemical detected in your drinking water."

Knowledge of the extent of PFC contamination within communities is expanding and is proving to be widespread. This raises a huge health concern, as exposure to PFCs is associated with cancer, weakened immunity function, thyroid disease and other health issues.

Walker finds it remarkable that America, considered the wealthiest country in the world, cannot guarantee its citizens that the water flowing from their taps is 100% safe to drink and that it will have no long-term health risks.

Over the last twenty-five years, the EPA hasn't added a single new drinking water pollutant to the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is due in part to the EPA being under-resourced, and in part due to pressure by the chemical industry who fights any new regulations. The only way limits will be set for these toxic chemicals in the near future is if they are implemented at state level.

In an earlier study, the EWG reported that even at very low concentrations, PFOA — the chemical used in Teflon non-stick coatings — can harm animal fetuses, and posed a grave public health risk. Yet, the average levels found in each state are at least five times higher than levels considered to be safe, and in some cases as much as 175 times higher.

Earlier this year, DuPont and its subsidiary company Chemours were forced to pay $671 million in lawsuit settlements to around 3,500 Ohio and West Virginia residents after their drinking water become contaminated by a carcinogenic chemical used in Teflon. Yet, while these plaintiffs have been awarded a settlement and this case is now closed, PFOA contamination is still widespread throughout the world.

This new interactive map, which will continue to be updated as information on other areas that are contaminated becomes known, serves as the most comprehensive tool available for tracking PFC contamination in the United States.

Environmental Working Group

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