Toxic chemicals known as PFAS exist in almost 42,000 sites around the U.S., according to research released on Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group.
The research published in the American Water Works Association’s journal Water Science found tens of thousands of potential point sources for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination around the country. Researchers analyzed data collected between August 2016 and March 2021. They found numerous previously unknown PFAS sites in samples of water downstream from manufacturing facilities.
“We don’t as of yet have great information on how frequently these different sources are contributing to the PFAS contamination we’re finding in surface water and drinking water,” lead study author David Andrews told The Hill.
Andrews said that a case study in Michigan highlighted in the report illustrated “how there’s an incredible range of different industries [that] have been identified ... as sources of PFAS contamination.”
“Overall, I think it really highlights how much work needs to be done in identifying where this contamination is coming from, so we can actually stop ongoing pollution into our water, ultimately,” he added. “It’s a broad overview but also provides a framework for moving forward.”
Additional treatment, widespread testing, and a more robust permitting apparatus have led to major reductions in PFAS levels in Michigan, demonstrating the need for such an approach nationwide, Andrews said.
At the federal level, Andrews said steps taken by the Biden Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are encouraging. He called proposed EPA rules on collecting data about PFAS sites “a critical step to identifying this contamination.”
“There’s places where we think they could be doing more” on PFAS contamination, he added, such as testing that tests for a wider range of PFAS.
“What we’re really looking for is definition of these chemicals and hazardous substances which would require cleanup of contaminated sites, and also the implementation of discharge permits,” he said.
“Our government is largely playing a game of catch up where the chemical industry and its pollution have a decades-long head start,” Andrews added.
The EPA is reportedly set to unveil tighter regulations on PFAS, according to documents obtained by The Hill.