According to a recent report, millions of Americans are drinking water tainted with toxic chemicals. Are you one of them?
In a report published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, researchers gathered data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on more than 36,000 water samples from around the country collected between 2013 and 2015, and found that toxic chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), exceed government-recommended safety levels for at least 6 million people in the United States.
In simple speak, at least 6 million people in the U.S. are being exposed to unsafe levels of toxic chemicals in their drinking water – chemicals which can cause a number of serious health problems, including cancer, high cholesterol, compromised immune systems, and hormone disruption.
This number is probably very low since only 10% of water supplies in the US have been tested for these chemicals, the researchers said, so the real scope of the problem is likely much larger.
“These chemicals may have complicated names, but people are exposed to them in nonstick cookware and packaging — things we use in our lives,” said lead researcher Cindy Hu, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s department of environmental health.
“These chemicals have concerning health effects, and drinking water is one of the main ways people are exposed to PFASs,” she added…
Although some of these toxic chemicals were phased out a decade ago, they linger in the environment, Hu explained, and other types of these chemicals are still used in manufacturing and in foam used for fighting fires.
Unless people have their water tested, they have no idea whether they are being exposed to high levels of PFASs, Hu said. In addition, the health effects of these chemicals can build up over time, as they tend to remain in the body.
People exposed to PFASs in their drinking water really have no way to avoid exposure, Hu said. The goal should be to keep these chemicals out of the water in the first place. In places where the level of PFASs is particularly high, the local water system has to provide another source of water, she said.
Regular treatment methods used at water plants do not remove these chemicals from the water, Hu added. She doesn’t think drinking bottled water is a good alternative either, because it has its own problems, such as chemicals from plastic bottles leaching into the water.
The researchers also looked at levels of these chemicals in wastewater treatment plants. These plants, which can’t remove PFASs by standard treatment methods, could contaminate groundwater, the researchers explained. Also, the sludge from these plants is often used as fertilizer, they said.
Drinking water from 13 states made up 75 percent of the PFASs detected — Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Of the public water systems the researchers studied, 66 had at least one sample that was at or above the EPA’s safety limits.
The highest levels of PFASs were found in watersheds near industrial sites, military bases and wastewater treatment plants, Hu said.
Even at low levels, exposure to PFASs can be potentially harmful….
Even if you know your water is contaminated with PFASs, there is little you can do. “Your choices are to use a different source for drinking water, like bottled water, but there are no standards for these compounds in bottled water, either,” Olsen said.