Energy & Environment

'Forever chemicals' found in drinking water at 34 additional locations: survey

So-called forever chemicals have been discovered in drinking water at 34 previously unknown locations, according to a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The environmental watchdog group found perfluoroalkyl substances, referred to as PFAS, were found at some of the highest levels in Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia, and indicate both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and previous reports by the EWG have underestimated the levels. PFAS are particularly resistant to breaking down in the environment and have been linked to numerous health problems.

Researchers analyzed tap water samples in 44 locations in 31 states and Washington, D.C., and found only one location - Meridian, Miss. - with no detectable PFAS and only two locations - Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Ala. - with levels below what is considered hazardous to humans, according to EWG. Utilities that test independently are not required to publicly report the results or make them available to the EPA or state water agencies.

The top five locations for PFAS levels were Brunswick County, N.C.; Quad Cities, Iowa; Miami; Bergen County, N.J. and Wilmington, N.C.

"Our results are meant to highlight the ubiquity of PFAS and the vulnerability of the nation's drinking water supply to PFAS contamination," EWG said in a statement. "They underscore what an expert at the Water and Environmental Technology Center at Temple University, in Philadelphia, said about PFAS contamination: 'If you sample, you will find it.' "

Only two of the locations, Brunswick County and Quad Cities, had levels above the EPA's limit for specific PFAS substances, referred to as PFOS and PFOA contaminants, the study found. Some states have set stricter limits on these chemicals. 

On average, EWG found six to seven PFAS compounds at the tested sites. The health effects of such combinations on public health have not been heavily analyzed. "Everyone's really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals," David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, told Reuters.

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