Report: Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Found in Kentucky Drinking Water Sources Serving 800,000 Residents

WASHINGTON – Public water utilities in Kentucky have detected toxic perfluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, in the drinking water sources for roughly 800,000 residents, according to an analysis by Environmental Working Group of recent utility tests from all 50 states.

Tests conducted between 2012 and 2017 by the utilities in Louisville, Lebanon Junction and Mt. Washington detected the PFAS compound PFOA at 5 parts per trillion, or ppt, five times higher than the 1 ppt that EWG scientists and other independent experts believe is safe for human health. There is no legal limit for PFAS chemicals under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The information was first published last week when EWG released its updated national Tap Water Database.

PFOA and other PFAS chemicals are some of the most persistent environmental contaminants in the world. PFOA does not break down and as a result is now in the blood of nearly every American, including newborns.

PFOA is one of the most notorious members of the PFAS chemical family, once mass produced at a DuPont chemical facility in Parkersburg, W.Va. The chemical was widely used for decades in Teflon cookware and other products. It is believed to cause testicular, kidney and liver cancer in people, along with a host of other serious health problems.

A potential source of the PFAS contamination at these Kentucky utilities is the Chemours Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, which like Louisville and other communities in the Bluegrass State, is situated along the Ohio River. The plant was operated for decades by DuPont before that company spun off its PFAS business to Chemours, in 2015.

As reported by WFPL-FM last week, recent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG of a single sample of Louisville tap water taken in July detected 10 different PFAS chemicals, including PFOA. Combined, the total amount of PFAS was 45.2 ppt and 7.7 for PFOA.

This news about contamination in Kentucky’s drinking water comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is negotiating with other congressional leaders on the final form of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020. The NDAA is a must-pass defense bill that includes a number of important PFAS-related provisions passed by the House and Senate.

Two provisions that are still under negotiation would designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law and as toxic pollutants under the Clean Water Act. The inclusion of these provisions in the NDAA would kick-start the cleanup process of legacy PFAS contamination sites and limit industrial discharges of PFAS waste into drinking water supplies.

“As majority leader, Sen. McConnell has enormous influence over this critical legislation that, for the first time, would begin cleaning up the PFAS contamination crisis fouling drinking water sources in Kentucky and across the country,” said EWG Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “To make serious and lasting progress in identifying and removing the sources of PFAS pollution, these provisions to the defense spending bill must be included in the final package Congress sends to President Trump.”

Beyond PFAS, EWG’s online tap water database shows there are other hazardous contaminants detected in the drinking water sources of Louisville, Lebanon Junction, Mt. Washington and many other communities across the state. Contaminants reported by local utilities include nitrate, hexavalent chromium, radium and total trihalomethanes, or TTHMs.


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.

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