Up to 26m Americans face drinking water contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’
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Millions of US citizens are drinking tap water contaminated with toxic chemicals, data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shown.
After collecting data on drinking water from cities across the country, the EPA found that up to 26 million citizens were affected by water with high levels of PFAS – or ‘forever chemicals’ – and lithium.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are a group of around 12,000 different chemicals commonly found in non-stick cookware, waterproof cosmetics, firefighting foams and products that resist grease and oil.
Despite their utility, PFAS have been associated with dangerous health effects in humans, livestock and the environment, leading to health problems such as liver damage, thyroid disease, obesity, fertility issues and cancer.
“PFAS are an urgent public health issue facing people and communities across the nation. The latest science is clear: exposure to certain PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, over long periods of time is linked to significant health risks,” said the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, Radhika Fox.
“That’s why the Biden-Harris administration is leading a whole-of-government approach to address these harmful chemicals. As part of this commitment, EPA is conducting the most comprehensive monitoring effort for PFAS ever, at every large and midsize public water system in America, and at hundreds of small water systems.”
The data being collected will help the EPA better understand national-level exposure to 29 PFAS and lithium, and whether they disproportionately impact communities with environmental justice concerns.
This initial data release represents approximately 7 per cent of the total results that EPA expects to receive over the next three years. It will update the results quarterly and share them with the public until they have completed the project in 2026.
In March, the EPA proposed setting new standards to limit certain PFAS in drinking water.
The proposal, if finalised, would oblige public water systems to use the results from the current study to meet the rule’s monitoring requirements and to inform communities of actions that may need to be taken.
The EPA also plans to expand the investigation and clean-up of PFAS contaminated sites, including by finalising new safeguards and holding polluters accountable for contamination from two widely used PFAS chemicals.
The data shows that the chemicals affect citizens from a range of settlements, including small towns like Collegeville in Pennsylvania, all the way up to major cities such as Fresno in California.
Last year, researchers unveiled a way to break down PFAS at relatively low temperatures with no harmful by-products. The technology could eventually make it easier for water treatment plants to remove PFAS from drinking water.
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