WASHINGTON – The U.S. Geological Survey has detected the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in public and private drinking water wells in 16 Eastern states.
USGS announced the findings in a new study designed to assess the contamination of five aquifers that are important sources of drinking water. PFAS were detected in public and private drinking water wells in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
The study detected 14 different PFAS, and most frequently found PFOA, PFOS and PFBS, some of the most notorious and well-studied PFAS.
USGS took 254 samples and found PFAS in 60 percent of wells serving public water systems. It found PFAS in 20 percent of wells serving individual households. Water was most likely to be contaminated with PFAS if the aquifer was newly filled, or the well was near a fire training site or urban area or had increased organic material.
At least one type of PFAS was detected in 54 percent of the samples, and two or more PFAS were found in 47 percent of the samples.
In addition to PFOA and PFOS, the most common PFAS detected include PFBS, PFHxS, PFHpA, PFNA, PFBA, PFPeA, and PFHxA.
“It’s very troubling that PFAS were detected so frequently,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs.
The highest detection collected was 1,500 parts per trillion, or ppt, of PFOA, found in a community water well in West Virginia.
PFAS are found in the blood of virtually everyone, including newborn babies. Very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system and are associated with an elevated risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, reproductive harms and other health concerns.
Thousands of communities have already detected these toxic forever chemicals in their water, and PFAS have been confirmed at nearly 400 military installations. EWG estimates that more than 200 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with PFAS.
“No one should have to worry about toxic forever chemicals in their tap water,” said Faber.
The Environmental Protection Agency has known of the risks to communities posed by PFAS since at least 1998 but has failed to act. The Biden EPA’s PFAS “roadmap” proposes to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS by 2023 and take steps to restrict industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water.
The USGS should help with identifying private wells that are contaminated with PFAS, but more needs to be done. “A drinking water standard will not address the PFAS in private wells,” Faber said. “It’s very troubling that 20 percent of private wells that were sampled contained PFAS. Millions of people living in rural households could be drinking contaminated tap water.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.