A new study out of Harvard University has some really bad news for you if you live in California, New Jersey, North Carolina or one of a handful of other American states: The water coming out of your tap may be contaminated with “life-threatening concentrations” of noxious chemicals used in pipe insulation, firefighting solutions, stain-proofing formulas and various other commercial and industrial products.
Also included in the mix are Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois, and likely many other states as well, since the study wasn’t able to tabulate figures for roughly one-third of the country – states occupied by approximately 100 million people. Even so, the ones that were accounted for speak volumes about the slipping quality of our nation’s water supplies.
According to tests conducted at water sites throughout the country, many larger-scale water systems are deeply contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, toxins collectively known as PFASs. PFASs have been used for more than 60 years in both industrial and commercial applications – in things like food wrappers, pots and pans and firefighting foam – and very little was known about where they went after their use.
We now know, however, that PFASs have been accumulating in water supplies for many decades. And since these chemicals have been definitively linked to hormone disruption, high cholesterol, obesity and even cancer – and unknown levels of them have been passing through inadequate wastewater treatment systems and into people’s tap water – it’s becoming clear that we have a major public health crisis on our hands.
“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment,” says Xindi Hu, a doctoral student at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, and one of the lead authors of the study. “We now have to face the severe consequences.”
PFAS-contaminated ‘sludge’ water used on commercial food crops as ‘fertilizer’
For their research, scientists evaluated six different types of PFASs in drinking water, using data from more than 36,000 water samples collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 2013 and 2015. They also looked at industrial sites that make or use PFASs, as well as places like military fire training sites and civilian airports, for firefighting foam that contains PFASs.
Believe it or not, many of these industrial sites are known to “recycle” their sludge wastewater and use it as “fertilizer” on factory farms. Some of it also ends up being dumped into sewer systems, which to this day are still unable to properly filter out PFASs before sending them into the ground – or in the case of “toilet-to-tap” water systems, sending them directly back into people’s homes.
The result? PFASs are building up in water systems all over the place – at least 194 out of 4,864 of them in 33 states across the U.S., to be exact. The bulk of the contamination, roughly 75 percent of the detections, are in the 13 states mentioned earlier. And 66 of the public water supplies tested, which serve a collective 6 million people, showed at least one water sample measure at or above the EPA safety limit for PFASs of 70 parts per trillion. There is certainly good reason for folks to invest in the scientific testing of samples of their own water.
“These compounds are potent immunotoxicants in children and recent work suggests drinking water safety levels should be much lower than the provisional guidelines established by EPA,” says Elsie Sunderland, senior author of the study.
Sources for this article include:
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