WASHINGTON – Half of the tap water supplies tested by Kentucky environmental officials were contaminated with the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, the state announced this week.
The samples were taken from water treatment plants serving about half of Kentucky’s roughly 4.5 million residents whose drinking water comes from public systems. The results, released Monday by the state Department of Environmental Protection, showed that 41 of 81 of the systems found at least one of the eight different PFAS for which the state tested.
PFOS, a chemical formerly used to make 3M’s Scotchgard and used in military firefighting foam, was the most frequently detected type of PFAS compound. The highest concentration of any PFAS found was 30 parts per trillion, or ppt, of GenX, a replacement chemical for PFOA, which was used to make Teflon. That is 30 times higher than the 1 ppt EWG scientists and other independent experts say is safe. There is no legal limit for PFAS chemicals under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Many of the samples were detected from drinking water systems that draw from the Ohio River, which flows downstream from a Teflon plant in Parkersburg, W.Va. The plant is operated by Chemours, a company spun off from DuPont, which dumped PFAS chemicals in the river for decades before the contamination was discovered in the late 1990s. Because PFAS chemicals don’t break down in the environment, even decades-old contamination remains a source of exposure for people today.
In response to the state’s results, Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs, said:
Kentucky is just the latest state to learn that when you test for PFAS you are likely to find it. Even at very low levels, PFAS chemicals are associated with serious health impacts, including cancer, reproductive and developmental harms, and reduced effectiveness of vaccines.
Congress is currently deliberating how to address PFAS in the annual defense spending bill, legislation that must pass this year. The discovery of PFAS contamination in half of the drinking water systems in Kentucky underscores the urgency for Congress to take bold action to address this growing crisis. Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, should act quickly to pass legislation that would require more testing and monitoring for PFAS, restrict industrial and military discharges of PFAS, require reporting of releases, and clean up legacy contamination.
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.