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Report: PFAS likely present in all major U.S. drinking water supplies

WASHINGTON — A new watchdog report is revealing PFAS, commonly known as forever chemicals, are likely to be found in all major drinking water supplies in the U.S.

The findings from Environment America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and the Frontier Group said a 2022 study of PFAS in U.S. surface waters found 83 percent of the sampled waterways were found to contain at least one PFAS compound.

“As of June 2022, 2,858 locations in 50 states and two U.S. territories were known to be contaminated with PFAS,” the report said. “Recent analysis by the Environmental Working Group has concluded that PFAS are now likely present in all major drinking water supplies in the U.S.”

PFAS often comes from industrial sites and firefighting equipment and it can dump into waterways used for drinking water.

“There are people getting sick because of these chemicals,” said John Rumpler, Clean Water Director with Environment America. “That’s not the way it should work. We should ban chemicals until they are proven safe.”

Rumpler said the potential harm from certain PFAS can include kidney cancer, a reduced antibody response to vaccines and other health problems.

“We know in general they are bad for us at very low levels,” said Rumpler.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first ever national standard for six PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

“For far too long, communities across the United States have been suffering from exposure to PFAS pollution,” said a spokesperson for the EPA. “EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap is our plan to deliver tangible public health benefits to all people who are impacted by these chemicals—regardless of their ZIP code or the color of their skin. The PFAS Roadmap provides a whole-of-agency approach to tackling PFAS, and it sets timelines by which the Agency plans to take concrete actions during the first term of the Biden-Harris Administration to deliver results for the American people.”

But environmental advocates argue the proposed standard for 6 PFAS is not enough to address the issue when there are thousands of kinds of PFAS chemicals.

“PFAS regulations should apply to all PFAS chemicals as a single class,” the report said. “Controlling the use of one type of PFAS at a time has historically led to the regrettable substitution of replacement chemicals that are less well understood, but not necessarily safer.”

According to the EPA, the proposed national primary drinking water regulation applies to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, commonly known as GenX Chemicals), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).

The proposal has not been finalized and is not yet in effect, but that’s expected to happen by the end of this year.

We asked Rumpler what someone can do if they want to find out if their water is contaminated with PFAS.

“Increasingly, water facilities are starting to test their drinking water and let the public know so that would be the most common sense way if you’re on a public water system would be to call you water utility and ask for those test results,” said Rumpler.

A spokesperson for the EPA said from this year through 2025, the agency is collecting nationally representative drinking water data from public water systems for 29 PFAS.

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