Drinking Water for 5.2 Million People Tainted by Unsafe Levels of PFCs

CORRECTION: The original version of this article erroneously state that PFOA and PFOS had been detected in a small number of samples in New York City; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Modesto, Calif. EWG regrets the error.

Drinking water supplies serving more than 5.2 million Americans may be contaminated with two perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency now deems safe, according to an EWG analysis of EPA test data.

Since 2013, an EPA-mandated testing program has detected elevated levels of the chemicals in 52 public water systems in 19 states plus two Pacific island territories. Those systems had at least one sample contaminated with either one of or both of the two PFCs at an amount greater than the new lifetime health advisory level announced this week by EPA

The agency’s new health advisory for the combined level of chemicals PFOA and PFOS in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion – about a drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. EPA said that at this level or below, the chemicals are “not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure.”

EPA said the new advisory level was set to protect health during critical windows of infant and child development when harm is most likely to occur. But a robust body of independent research has also linked the chemicals to cancer, thyroid disease, endocrine disruption and other health problems, and the newest research says they can cause harm at levels 70 or more times lower than the EPA recommended.

The advisory level is not a legally enforceable limit, although after EPA’s announcement some utilities immediately warned customers not to drink or use the water. The EPA has said it could be 2019 or beyond before it sets enforceable drinking water standard.

PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard, are the most prominent members of a class of chemicals that have been used for decades in hundreds of consumer products and industrial applications. Both chemicals were also used for firefighting at military airfields and commercial airports.

They were phased out after revelations that the manufacturers had withheld decades of studies showing that the chemicals were extraordinarily persistent in the environment and build up in people’s blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says both substances contaminate the blood of almost all Americans and can be passed from mothers to unborn children.

Several large metro areas had detections in a small number of samples. It is not known exactly how many people were served the contaminated water, and since testing began three years ago, some systems may no longer be contaminated.

Conversely, the number of people drinking the tainted water could actually be higher. The EPA testing program covered only a small sample of water systems that serve fewer than 10,000 customers and did not cover private wells. About 19 percent of Americans drink water from these smaller systems and another 15 percent get their water from private wells.

Source: EWG, from EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring program.

State County Water Supplier Contaminants detected Population served
Alabama Morgan West Morgan - East Lawrence Water Authority PFOS,PFOA 26,130
Lawrence West Lawrence Water Co-op PFOS,PFOA 14,517
Etowah Gadsden Waterworks & Sewer Board PFOA,PFOS 46,551
Rainbow City Utilities Board PFOA,PFOS 11,748
Southside Waterworks PFOA,PFOS 10,800
DeKalb Northeast Alabama Water System PFOA,PFOS 37,500
Cullman VAW Water System, Inc. PFOS,PFOA 14,958
Arizona Mohave Oatman Water Company PFOS,PFOA 536
Maricopa City of Tempe PFOS,PFOA 165,000
Arizona - Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community   Salt River Public Works PFOS 35,470
California Tulare CA Water Service - Visalia PFOS 132,158
San Joaquin City of Lathrop PFOS,PFOA 12,427
Sacramento CA American Water Co. - Suburban PFOA,PFOS 33,914
Riverside Eastern Municipal Water District PFOA,PFOS 503,700
Riverside City of Corona PFOA,PFOS 155,896
Orange City of Anaheim PFOS,PFOA 346,823
City of Orange PFOS,PFOA 138,640
Yorba Linda Water District PFOS,PFOA 77,513
Butte CA Water Service - Chico PFOS 97,274
Colorado El Paso City of Fountain PFOS,PFOA 20,000
Security WSD PFOA,PFOS 19,000
Widefield WSD PFOA,PFOS 18,343
Delaware New Castle Artesian Water Company PFOA,PFOS 211,494
Florida Pasco City of Zephyrhills PFOS 21,823
Escambia Emerald Coast Utilities Authority PFOA,PFOS 249,872
Massachusetts Hampden Westfield Water Department PFOS,PFOA 42,000
Barnstable Hyannis Water System PFOA,PFOS 35,000
Maine York Sanford Water District PFOS 14,025
Minnesota Washington Oakdale PFOS,PFOA 27,378
Beltrami Bemidji PFOS 13,431
North Carolina Moore Moore County Public Utilities - Pinehurst PFOS,PFOA 19,368
Guilford City of Greensboro PFOS 250,000
New Hampshire Strafford Dover Water Department PFOA,PFOS 28,000
New Jersey Union NJ American Water Co. - Raritan PFOA,PFOS 609,305
Essex South Orange Water Department PFOA 16,924
Bergen Fair Lawn Water Department PFOS,PFOA 32,573
Mahwah Water Department PFOS 24,062
Ridgewood Water PFOA,PFOS 61,700
Atlantic Atlantic City MUA PFOA,PFOS 150,000
New York Suffolk Hampton Bays Water District PFOS 12,500
Suffolk County Water Authority PFOS 1,100,000
Orange City of Newburgh PFOS 28,000
New Windsor Consolidated Water District PFOA,PFOS 30,000
Ohio Greene Wright-Patterson AFB Area A/C PFOA,PFOS 11,791
Cuyahoga City of Cleveland Heights PFOS 46,000
Pennsylvania Dauphin United Water PA PFOA,PFOS 105,649
Bucks Doylestown Twp. Muni. Authority PFOA 8,655
Rhode Island Providence Town of Cumberland PFOA 21,900
Washington King Issaquah Water System PFOA,PFOS 22,926
Wisconsin La Crosse La Crosse Waterworks PFOS 53,000
West Virginia Wood Vienna PFOA 12,507
Berkeley City of Martinsburg PFOS 15,180
Total 5,193,961
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