Energy & Environment

‘Forever chemicals’ found in water systems serving millions: GAO

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“Forever chemicals” have been identified in water systems that serve about 9.5 million people in just six states, according to a new analysis of state data by a congressional watchdog. 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report this week saying that the toxic chemicals had been found in at least 18 percent of water systems in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Vermont. 

“Forever chemicals” are the nickname of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals known to linger in human bodies and the environment. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently determined that the two types of forever chemicals monitored in the GAO’s report are unsafe to consume, even at extremely low levels. 

PFAS have been linked to illnesses including kidney and testicular cancers and thyroid disease, among other ailments. 

According to the report, the substances were found in water systems serving about 5.8 million people in New Jersey, 2.1 million people in New Hampshire, 600,000 people in Illinois, 500,000 people in Ohio, 300,000 people in New Hampshire and fewer than 100,000 people in Vermont. 

In addition to finding the chemicals in the drinking water systems at large, the GAO report also called on the EPA to do further analysis of whether disadvantaged communities faced disproportionate impacts from PFAS. 

The EPA agreed with the recommendation.

The report found conflicting results in that area thus far, saying that in New Jersey, communities with more non-White, Hispanic and Latino, and low income residents were more likely to have PFAS in their drinking water. But, the report said, the opposite is true in Massachusetts, where these groups were less likely to have PFAS in their water. 

The six states were selected because they have developed standards or guidance for PFAS in drinking water and have collected data. 

“These are states that are ahead of the curve,” said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. 

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