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Breaking News: Half of U.S. Tap Water Contains Forever Chemicals

By December 15, 2023No Comments

A recent government study reveals that approximately 50% of tap water in the United States is tainted with persistent contaminants known as ‘forever chemicals.’ Polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of human-made chemicals that have been widely used in various industrial and commercial applications since the 1950s. PFAS are characterized by strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which contribute to their stability and resistance to degradation in the environment. This group of chemicals is also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Key Characteristics of PFAS

PFAS are valued for their ability to repel water and oil, making them useful in products like water-resistant clothing, non-stick cookware (such as Teflon), and firefighting foams.

Chemical Stability

The strong carbon-fluorine bonds in PFAS contribute to their chemical stability, making them resistant to heat, water, and other environmental factors.

Persistent Nature

One of the significant concerns with PFAS is their persistence in the environment. Many PFAS compounds do not break down easily, leading to long-term presence in soil, water, and air.


PFAS can accumulate in living organisms over time, including in humans. This bioaccumulation potential raises concerns about potential health effects.

Health and Environmental Concerns

Prolonged exposure to certain PFAS has been associated with health concerns. These include potential links to developmental issues, liver and immune system effects, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Environmental concerns include contamination of water supplies and ecosystems.

Common types of PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), among others. These substances have been phased out or are being replaced in some applications due to environmental and health concerns. Regulatory agencies in various countries are working to address and manage PFAS contamination, setting guidelines for acceptable levels in drinking water and monitoring their use in different industries.

Everything You Need to Know About PFAS in Drinking Water

The study’s scope was limited to 32 out of over 12,000 types of potentially harmful per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), suggesting that the actual number of individuals consuming contaminated water might be higher than reported due to the incomplete testing.

PFAS, a widespread group of synthetic chemicals, persist in the environment and the human body, with documented links to health issues such as cancer, obesity, thyroid disease, and more, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Recent EPA advisories, reflecting updated scientific understanding, underscore the heightened health risks posed by PFAS even at levels previously considered safe. The complexities of PFAS exposure, varying types, and evolving uses contribute to challenges in specifying health effects. Ongoing research aims to unravel the relationship between different exposure levels and the diverse health impacts of PFAS.

Understanding the risk of tap water exposure to PFAS is crucial. While water filters can offer some protection in cases of contamination, ongoing efforts aim to regulate specific PFAS chemicals in US drinking water.

What did the Study Find?

The USGS study departed from conventional monitoring methods by collecting water directly from homeowners’ taps, where exposure occurs. From 2016 to 2021, researchers sampled 716 locations, including residences, businesses, and drinking-water treatment plants, spanning protected, rural, and urban areas across the U.S.

Out of the sampled locations, 447 depend on public supplies, and 269 rely on private wells. The study revealed comparable PFAS concentrations in both. Urban areas and sites like airports and wastewater treatment plants showed higher occurrences, aligning with previous research. The USGS estimates a 75% likelihood of PFAS presence in urban areas and 25% in rural areas, suggesting varied exposure levels in specific geographical regions.

Where is Contamination High?

This comprehensive study, published in Environmental International, is the most extensive to date, providing detailed information on PFAS concentrations in residential tap water. Examining 716 locations, including private wells and public sources between 2016 and 2021, the researchers estimate that at least one PFAS chemical would be detected in 45% of US drinking water samples.

Contamination primarily originated from water sources near urban areas and PFAS-generating sites, such as manufacturing and waste collection sites. The study identified the highest PFAS concentrations in drinking water in the Great Plains, Great Lakes, Eastern Seaboard, and Central/Southern California.

Similar concentrations were observed in both private wells and public water supplies. Dr. Jamie DeWitt, a toxicologist, notes that PFAS has been discovered in numerous locations, indicating its widespread presence in drinking water. According to DeWitt, scientists have consistently found PFAS in nearly every place they’ve investigated.

What is Causing Contamination?

Thousands of man-made PFAS chemicals, found in various products like nonstick cookware and stain-resistant carpets, persist in the environment, accumulating in people, animals, and ecosystems due to their slow breakdown.

PFAS, present in hundreds of household items, are utilized for stain resistance in carpets and clothes, non-stick properties in cookware, and as water and grease repellents. These chemicals are pervasive, found in various products like mobile phones, airplanes, food packaging, rainwater, and dental floss. A 2019 study suggested PFAS in 98% of the US population. While the new 45% finding may seem low, efforts by utilities to eliminate PFAS and the use of home filters could contribute to this lower detection rate.

How Can I Check My Water for PFAS?

While checking for PFAS in water is crucial, there’s no need for fear. Instead, people should be aware and equipped with knowledge to make informed decisions about their drinking water.

Check your local utility’s recent water report for information on water quality and contaminant reduction efforts. While carbon filters can help, regular replacement is essential. Reverse osmosis systems are an option but can be costly. The EPA has proposed stringent national standards for six PFAS chemicals, potentially requiring water systems to assess risks, implement treatments, or change water sources. According to Dr. Graham Peaslee from the University of Notre Dame, addressing PFAS in 45% of US water systems will be a significant undertaking.

Can We Clean Up PFAS?

Reverse osmosis filters, using high-pressure membranes, are recommended by the EPA for effectively removing over 90% of various PFAS. These filters can be installed at the house’s water entry point or under the sink. Consult your state environmental protection agency, health department, and local water utility for recommended actions, as advised by the EPA. 

Federal efforts are in progress to restrict forever chemicals in drinking water. In March, the EPA proposed the initial federal limits on six PFAS forms, aiming to decrease exposure for approximately 100 million Americans. Cleanup in ground water is essential due to real health risks. Despite the expense and lack of permanent solutions, inventive filtration methods must be explored for the long term.

What are the Health Risks of Exposure to PFAS?

Research has linked exposure to certain PFAS to adverse health effects in humans, from an increased risk of certain cancers, increased obesity and high cholesterol risk, decreased fertility and developmental effects like low birth weight in children.

If the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health study is accurate, the potential health consequences for the 97% of Americans contaminated with PFAS remain uncertain. Individuals who develop illnesses from these chemicals could potentially have grounds to pursue legal action.

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