It is now 2021 and protecting our environment is more important than ever. However, with all the work we have done to try to keep the ocean and earth clean with recycling, reducing plastic, and much more, what about our drinking water? PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) is the not-so-new monster inhabiting our drinking waters. The worst part about these manufactured chemicals is that there is a high chance they will outlast human life on this earth and are almost impossible to eliminate.
Our drinking water is the main source of exposure for people to PFAS chemicals in the U.S. who primarily drink tap water. According to Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., vice president for science investigations at EWG (Environmental Working Group), “We know drinking water is a major source of exposure of these toxic chemicals. This new paper shows that PFAS pollution is affecting even more Americans than we previously estimated. PFAS are likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S., almost certainly in all that use surface water.”
At this time, there is no national drinking water standard for PFAS in the U.S. However, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) stated that they are working on setting a safety limit for the level of PFAS in drinking water and in the soil.
After studies by multiple companies, it has been found that these toxic chemicals, PFAS, are in our drinking water in many cities in the U.S. The studies confirm many people are risking exposure to PFAS daily when drinking tap water. In addition, other studies say that PFAS can be detected in all major water supplied in the U.S. There are many major cities highlighted in these studies, such as:
- Washington D.C.
- New York City
- Las Vegas
- New Orleans
The studies show these cities contain PFAS levels of at least 10 parts per trillion and at least 1 part per trillion, which are dangerous levels. Only one city in Mississippi tested negative for PFAS. Seattle and Tuscaloosa have lower levels than the limit set by the EWG.
Also, if you want more information about the exact locations of PFAS contaminated drinking water, view this interactive map that shows PFAS Contamination in the U.S.
Health Effects of PFAS
According to multiple studies, there are many health risks associated with PFAS exposure, such as:
- Causes developmental defects in infants.
- Lowers a woman’s chance of getting pregnant.
- Increases a woman’s blood pressure during pregnancy/preeclampsia.
- Lowers infant birth weight.
- Interferes with the body’s natural hormones.
- Increases cholesterol levels.
- Affects the immune system.
- Increases the risk of cancer.
- Liver Damage.
- Increased risk of thyroid disease.
- Increased risk of asthma.
The most common cancers reported from PFAS exposure include:
What is PFAS?
PFAS or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are manufactured chemicals made up of multiple groups of other manufactured chemicals. The chemical compound is water-soluble and does not breakdown efficiently in the environment. PFAS are found in all kinds of products, including regular everyday items that we use. There are many ways people can be exposed to PFAS from everyday life, such as:
- Public water systems and drinking water wells, soil, and outdoor air near industrial areas with frequent PFAS manufacture, disposal, or use.
- Indoor air or dust in spaces that contain carpets, textiles, and other consumer products treated with PFAS to resist stains.
- Surface water (lakes, ponds, etc.) Or groundwater receiving run-off or seepage from areas where firefighting foam was often used (like military or civilian airfields)
- Fish from contaminated bodies of water.
- Food items sold in the marketplace.
- Food packaging.
- Unborn babies through umbilical cord blood from their mothers during pregnancy.
- Newborns breast milk or through formula made with water that contains PFAS.
- 2016, EPA sets a non-enforceable “health advisory” level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water – far above what independent researchers say is safe.
- In March 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans issued a public health statement warning veterans about their exposure to PFAS and how it can negatively affect their health (page last updated, April 2020).
- December 2019, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) issued a statement that PFAS contains toxic elements and may lead to health concerns for humans.
- In March 2020, the Environmental Working Group posted a study on how PFAS acts similarly to known cancer-causing chemicals.
Because PFAS are in many assorted products, there are different lawsuits filed against various makers for different reasons.
The main lawsuit involving PFAS alleged to cause harm is the firefighting foam lawsuit. Firefighters use specialized foam called AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam) that cuts off the oxygen in fires and quickly depletes them faster than water. However, PFAS is the active ingredient in AFFF, which can directly expose firefighters to potential contamination. After many potential victims have been filing lawsuits, the lawsuits for AFFF contamination have been consolidated into a mass tort lawsuit. The official MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) is under the United States District Court of South Carolina MDL No. 2873.
Additionally, the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) is filing a lawsuit involving multiple PFAS manufacturers for contaminating waters with PFAS. The NRWA is seeking compensation to test, perform treatments, and correct damages due to the alleged PFAS contamination. At this time, the NRWA is suing the following companies for water contamination:
- 3M Company
- Tyco Fire Products L.P.
- National Foam Inc
- Buckeye Fire Protection
- Inc. Du Pont De Nemours Inc.
- The Chemours Company