While those who lead our cities, towns, and public utilities companies continually reassure us that they’re doing us a service and require payment to continue doing so, it is glaringly obvious that most Americans are getting a poor return on their investment.
A new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University has found that people in 43 states in the United States have access to unhealthy drinking water, contaminated with PFAS chemicals. According to the CDC, those very same chemicals have been linked to major health issues like birth defects, cancer and infertility. “PFAS compounds are a family of thousands of chemicals used in a wide array of consumer and industrial applications” that most of us have in our homes right now—cleaning products, waterproof clothing, nonstick cookware, textiles, grease-resistant food packaging, leather, paper goods, paint and more. One of the most notorious PFAS compounds is PFOA, which was previously used to make DuPont’s Teflon.
Using information compiled from the Pentagon and water utility reports, the researchers have shown that around 19 million people are currently being exposed to contaminated water, with contamination sites ranging from entire public water systems to military bases, airports, industrial plants, garbage dumps and firefighter training sites.
The EWG said in a statement on Monday:
“The known extent of contamination of American communities with the highly toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS continues to grow at an alarming rate, with no end in sight.”
“This should be frightening to all Americans in many ways,” said David Andrews, a scientist with the Environmental Working Group. “These chemicals… don’t break down in our body and they don’t break down in our environment and they actually stick to our blood. So levels tend to increase over time.”
“These chemicals can impact a lot of different health systems, cause numerous health problems, everything from testicular and kidney cancer, heart to the liver, heart to the thyroid.”
The EWG’s interactive map, pictured below, is the most comprehensive resource to track PFAS contamination currently in use, and it shows just how widespread the problem truly is.
Now that we know the contamination sources for many of the PFASs found in municipal drinking water, is anyone being held accountable for this contamination? And why aren’t we being told don’t drink the water?
The truth is, according to the EWG, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t currently have a legally enforceable limit on the books for PFASs in drinking water.
According to Ken Cook, EWG president:
“The Environmental Protection Agency has utterly failed to address PFAS with the seriousness this crisis demands, leaving local communities and states to grapple with a complex problem rooted in the failure of the federal chemical regulatory system.”
Of the EPA’s failure, Andrews said:
“Part of the problem is they haven’t set a new legal drinking water limit for any contaminant in over two decades. The whole system of regulating chemicals that may end up in our water and setting limits is broken and the agency is really falling behind the science here.”
The Environmental Working Group is proposing that a legal limit 1 part per trillion be set for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. And while the EPA isn’t acting quickly or thoroughly enough for some, the agency did release a PFAS Action Plan just this year, which outlines “concrete steps the agency is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health.” But one has to wonder why issues such as this often only warrant a report from the overseeing agency after the true breadth
But unfortunately, PFASs aren’t the only concern. According to CBS News:
“This report comes less than one week after another study by the Environmental Working Group claimed a collection of toxic chemical pollutants found in California drinking water could be responsible for an excess of 15,000 estimated cancer cases over the coming decades. Scientists published that study in the journal Environmental Health after finding toxins and carcinogens in more than 2,700 California community water systems between 2011 and 2015.”
All of this comes in addition to the numerous municipalities dealing with water supplies contaminated by metals like lead. Cities like Flint, Michigan are still struggling to tackle the issue and reeling from the consequences, despite having known about it for years.