U.S. Water Supply Compromised By “Forever Chemicals”

The US Geological Survey conducted a comprehensive investigation that concluded that approximately half of all tap water sources in the United States contain harmful PFAS “forever chemicals.” 

High quantities of PFAS were detected in the study’s Great Plains, Great Lakes, East Coast, and Central/Southern California regions, where 45 percent of the drinking water sources were located. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS) were detected nationwide in over 700 water sources. 

These tiny, man-made compounds don’t degrade in nature or the human body for hundreds of years; thus, they’re called “forever chemicals.” The study concluded that the prevalence of PFAS in tap water was higher in more populated metropolitan areas compared to less inhabited rural areas.

The water- and oil-repellent properties of PFAS chemicals make non-stick cookware so convenient and some raincoats and tents waterproof. PFAS can enter the food chain through grease-resistant packaging or the breakdown of non-stick coatings on cookware. PFAS are also frequently found in agricultural pesticides, which can lead to chemically rich runoff that ultimately makes its way into the water supply.

Seven out of ten pesticides used on cotton fields were discovered to contain PFAS, with PFOS (PFOS), a chemical associated with cancer, present at levels as high as 19 million parts per trillion (ppt). Alarming amounts of PFAS pollution were found in drinking water sources across the United States, according to research conducted by the Geological Survey from 2016 to 2021. 

Approximately 270 million Americans utilize public water systems, while 40 million rely on private wells. The problem is far more severe at the municipal level since specific drinking water sources in cities and communities have concentrations higher than the EPA’s acceptable limit. PFAS, often known as “forever chemicals,” have been linked to elevated LDL cholesterol levels, arterial plaque development, and liver damage.

Hormone disruption caused by prolonged PFAS exposure can potentially harm reproductive health and fertility. Pregnant women exposed to PFAS are more likely to have diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and their unborn children are likelier to have low birth weight and an increased risk of childhood obesity and infections. 

Long-term exposure raises cancer risk, especially in the kidneys and testicles. The federal government has taken action, with the EPA proposing stricter limits on the amount of PFAS that can be present in American drinking water. A final decision is not expected until 2024, and the government has not yet revealed the new restrictions.