Nearly half of tap water in the United States could contain forever chemicals.

A report published by the U.S. Geological Survey discovered that as much as 45% of the water coming out of U.S. taps may contain one or more types of PFAS, which could pose a risk to human health.

A US Geological Survey study that has just been made available indicates that as much as 45% of the nation’s taps have some type of PFAS contamination often referred to as “perpetual chemicals”.

Thousands of synthetic chemicals are present in various materials, ranging from non-stick cookware to water and food polluted by these chemicals. These man-made substances break down slowly, amassing in the bodies of humans, beasts and the planet’s ecosystem over time.

Studies have generated connections between exposure to certain PFAS chemicals and hazardous effects in humans, for instance augmented hazard of certain cancers, obesity and high cholesterol risk, diminished fertility and unfavorable developmental outcomes such as low birth weight among kids.

Kelly Smalling, a USGS research chemist who unveiled the study on Wednesday, asserted to NPR in an email that the survey can assist the public in recognizing their vulnerability to contamination, and can be used to help direct test and cure methods for drinking water.

For the first time, Smalling said, this research conducted a thorough evaluation of PFAS in water from public and private sources around the nation.

This USGS chart displays thePFAS data gathered from multiple points all throughout the US.

This exploration utilized water tests from over 700 spots across the landmass for a time span of five years, and using that information to reproduce and foretell PFAS adulteration for the entire nation. This research has occurred at the same time as the national government seeks to create recent rules for contaminants in drinking water.

In June of 2022, the American Environmental Protection Agency distributed advisories concerning drinking water concerning two regular compounds – Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS). They warned that these chemicals pose health hazards even at subtler levels than the government can detect.

The USGS surveyed 32 distinct PFAS compounds, and declared in a released statement that the EPA’s current advisories for PFOS and PFOA “were exceeded in all samples where they were seen in this study.”

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) – which characterizes itself as an impartial and fair science organisation – does not furnish policy proposals in its report, according to Smalling who outlines several principal realizations.

The speaker drew attention to the need for gathering information about PFAS from private wells, which are left up to individual homeowners and not regulated like public sources are by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The consequences of this are far-reaching on the masses.

What the study found

Smalling elucidated that her group opted for an alternative strategy rather than the conventional means of tracing PFAS and other harmful pollutants. This involved measuring contamination levels at water treatment plants and ground wells which feed these sources.

“The research conducted by the USGS zeroed in on obtaining water straight from a residential tap as that is where contact was made,” she narrated.

 Between 2016 and 2021, scientists procured samples from 716 dwellings, companies and drinking-water treatment centers from many different secure, rural and urban locations throughout the United States. Of these, 447 get their supply from public sources while 269 are private wells. The investigators found concentrations of PFAS to be comparable between the two.

Smalling confirmed that they noticed higher concentrations of chemicals in the samples gathered close to urban locations and likely sources of PFAS such as airports and sewage treatment facilities, which is reminiscent of earlier findings.

USGS researchers have calculated an approximate 75% probability of discovering PFAS in urban areas and 25% in rural locations. Furthermore, the study suggests that occurrence may be more widespread in certain geographies.

Results obtained from the study indicated that possible hotspots following a trend of increasing occurrence may be found in regions such as the Great Plains, Eastern Seaboard, Central/Southern California and the area surrounding the Great Lakes, according to Smalling’s statement.

The research indicates that further analysis must be done to determine potential health hazards of PFAS combined with other pollutants, particularly in private wells that are not monitored and do not have info accessible.

What can be done

According to Smalling, USGS tap water research is still ongoing with its main focus on private well owners and small towns.” Suppose someone’s getting worried about their drinking water safety. In that case, the results of this and other similar studies can help them get enlightened, assess their own vulnerability and even contact regional health advisors for testing or purification,” the official continued.

It is advised by the EPA to investigate whether PFAS chemicals occur in your drinking water. Depending on the source, this could be accomplished by phoning the local utility or getting periodic well testing. Subsequently, tally up the numbers with those stipulated in your state as “safe levels” of PFAS for potable water – or the advisories given by the EPA.

If you’re worried, the EPA suggests contacting your regional environment agency or health department and inquiring from your local water provider what steps they advise. You can also put particular types of filters that are certified to minimize the amounts of PFAS in water, making use of methods such as carbon filtration and reverse osmosis. 

Meanwhile, the Federal government is taking actions to limit perpetual chemicals in drinking water.

 In March, the EPA announced new federal drinking water standards on 6 types of PFAS, likely resulting in limited exposure for approximately 100 million US citizens.

The regulations being proposed would necessitate water systems to conduct pricey testing and remediation efforts as well as provide an open account of the findings – something WBUR’s Gabrielle Emanuel spoke about on NPR earlier. Sadly, this wouldn’t apply to the one in eight Americans who receive their water from individual wells as those people should take care of their own tests and filtering themselves.

Furthermore, environmentalists and specialists are keen to see norms cover a wider array of PFAS and lessen them from the source, rather than simply cleaning up afterwards.

The organization is open to revising its proposal due to the public feedback it has gained, prior to issuing a conclusive ruling which is planned to be released before the end of 2020.


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