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US drinking water widely contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’: Report

US drinking water widely contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’: Report
The contamination of U.S. drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group.

The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight, and other health problems.

The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report.

The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks.

Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states and Washington D.C., only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700 foot (215 m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends.

In addition, EWG found that on average six to seven PFAS compounds were found at the tested sites, and the effects on health of the mixtures are little understood. “Everyone’s really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said.

In 34 places where EWG’s tests found PFAS, contamination had not been publicly reported by the EPA or state environmental agencies.

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA said it has helped states and communities address PFAS and that it is working to put limits on the two main chemicals but did not give a timeline.

In 2018 a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.

 

Source:  CNBC

By: Published Wed, Jan 22 20206:34 AM ESTUpdated Wed, Jan 22 202011:59 AM EST

LINK: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/22/us-drinking-water-widely-contaminated-with-forever-chemicals-report.ht

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Forever chemicals found in Columbus’ drinking water – News – The Columbus Dispatch – Columbus, OH

LINK: https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200122/forever-chemicals-found-in-columbusrsquo-drinking-water

An environmental group tested tap water at 44 locations across the country for “forever chemicals.” Samples taken in Columbus and Cincinnati tested at levels that researchers say could be harmful but are below U.S EPA guidelines.

Tap water tests in more than three dozen locations across the country found toxic “forever chemicals” at most of the sites, including Columbus and Cincinnati, according to a nonprofit environmental organization.

In Columbus, a total of nine forever chemicals were found by the Environmental Working Group, totaling 16.4 parts per trillion of perperfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. For years, the chemicals were used by companies to make nonstick cookware, stain-resistant and waterproof fabrics, food packaging and more.

The problem is the chemicals don’t break down, which means they stay around forever, including in human blood or organs, once consumed.


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The highest forever chemical content found in the Columbus sample was perfluorobutyrate (PFBA) at 4.8 parts per trillion. PFBA is a breakdown product of other forever chemicals.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses a guideline of 70 parts per trillion of PFAS as a maximum allowable amount.

However, researchers argue that anything more than 1 part per trillion can cause harmful health effects. The chemicals are proved to increase the risk of cancer, reduce fertility in women, interfere with hormones, increase cholesterol levels and negatively affect the immune system and development in infants and children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To lower the amount of these man-made chemicals to 1 part per trillion would likely cost the city of Columbus tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars, said Matt Steele, water supply treatment coordinator for the Columbus Public Utilities Division of Water.

“We’re concerned about public health and maintaining compliance with the regulations,” Steele said. “If these are high levels, then we’re definitely concerned and we’ll do what it takes to address those.”

In Cincinnati, the amount of PFAS detected in its public drinking water was 11.2 parts per trillion from a total of five chemicals. The highest chemical detected was 4.8 parts per trillion of GenX, which DuPont de Nemours Inc. used to make Teflon, replacing another chemical that had a longer chemical chain.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works did not respond to questions. However, on their website, they say they have been monitoring GenX since 2017 “to ensure there were not high levels of that compound in the water from the DuPont plant. … GCWW will continue to monitor GenX to evaluate its level in the river and to ensure that this compound is removed effectively through the treatment processes.”

On average, the environmental group detected about six to seven chemicals in each water system tested. It tested for a total of 30 chemicals.

“They got a couple of different ones that (Columbus) didn’t have before,” Steele said. “I would love to have everything below detection but they’re not. (The levels are) not near any of the health advisory levels or the EPA action levels.”

In the past five years, Columbus has spent more than $400 million in water system upgrades and to expand capacity. To remove forever chemicals would require additional technology such as granular activated carbon, ion exchange or reverse osmosis.

Out of 44 water systems tested by the environmental group, only one — in Meridian, Mississippi — had no detectable PFAS, and two other locations had PFAS below 1 part per trillion. The water systems with the highest amount of forever chemicals detected were Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans and the northern New Jersey suburbs of New York City.

Scientists believe PFAS are likely detectable in all major U.S. water supplies — almost certainly in all that use surface water. In Columbus, most of the city’s drinking water is surface water.

Some states already have set or proposed limits or guidelines for PFAS in drinking water. Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that 90% of the state’s drinking water be tested for the chemicals. Testing could begin as soon as next month, according to a spokesman for the governor.

As attorney general, DeWine filed two lawsuits against companies on behalf of the state seeking funds to clean up contamination from PFAS as well as restitution.

Andrews said he thinks the environmental group’s test results highlight the need for additional testing of all water supplies.

“The action really needs to happen in terms of identifying where the pollution is … and making sure there’s no ongoing releases to the water,” he said. “And in places where there are higher levels of contamination — that there’s adequate filtration to remove these chemicals.”

bburger@dispatch.com

@ByBethBurger

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