A newly released study by the U.S. Geological Survey has found that at least 45% of the nation’s tap water could be contaminated with at least one form of PFAS, unaffectionately known as “forever chemicals.” This man-made family of thousands of chemicals, are found in all sorts of products, the most common being nonstick cookware (Teflon), stain-resistant carpets and the like. PFAS was not a regulated substance for many years, so manufacturing facilities discharged PFAS in otherwise treated wastewater, which contaminated many sources of food and water.
PFAS breaks down very slowly, and can build up in people, animals and the environment over time. PFAS exposure has been linked to adverse health effects in humans, from an increased risk of certain cancers, increased obesity and high cholesterol risk, decreased fertility and developmental effects like low birth weight in children.
The USGS study compared PFAS in tap water from both public and private supplies on a broad scale throughout the country, the first time this has been done. Water from more than 700 locations across the country was collected and analyzed during a five-year period, and that data was used to model and estimate PFAS contamination nationwide. The study specifically focused on collecting water directly from a homeowners tap, where exposure actually occurs, although samples were taken from residences, businesses and drinking-water treatment plants from a range of protected, rural and urban areas across the U.S. All this comes as the federal government is looking to create new regulations for PFAS and other toxins in drinking water.
The EPA recommends finding out whether PFAS chemicals are in your drinking water, either by calling your local water utility or conducting regular well testing, depending on your source. Then you can compare those numbers to your state’s standards for safe levels of PFAS in drinking water (or those in the EPA advisories). If PFAS is found in your water supply, you could install specific kinds of water filters that are certified to lower the levels of PFAS in water, using technologies like activated carbon treatment and reverse osmosis.