Health & Safety, News

New Tests Uncover Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water in Dozens of Cities

Advocacy group did tests in Boston, Chicago, Miami, and other cities

Mapping done by the Environmental Working Group shows military bases contaminated by PFAS (Photo: Environmental Working Group)

By JOCE STERMAN, Sinclair Broadcast Group, WJLA, with permission

WASHINGTON (SBG/WJLA) — An environmental advocacy group has released a new round of testing, which it says uncovered toxic PFAS chemicals in the drinking water in dozens of cities across the country. Still, the levels detected by the Environmental Working Group’s research fell generally below the level currently considered advisable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In its report released Wednesday, EWG says it collected tap water samples from dozens of places in more than 30 states. The cities tested included Washington, D.C., Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Seattle and New York. The group’s findings showed PFAS chemicals turned up in the drinking water in more than 40 locations. PFAS or so-called “forever chemicals” are hazardous, man-made chemicals found in everything from food packaging to nonstick cookware. Studies cited by the EPA show they have a link to certain kinds of cancer as well as other health problems.

The highest levels, according to EWG’s testing, appeared in samples obtained from Brunswick County, North Carolina, and Quad Cities, Iowa. In both of those locations, PFAS levels exceeded the EPA’s current Lifetime Health Advisory level for two of the most prominent PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA. The LHA is currently 70 parts per trillion (ppt). States that have begun to set limits for PFAS in drinking water have considered going lower than the EPA. For instance, New Jersey has proposed setting limits of 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. New York has set the lowest PFAS level in the country for PFAS in drinking water at 10 ppt.

According to the testing, Washington had a PFAS level of 21.7 ppt while Philadelphia’s water sample measured at 46.3 ppt. While those levels fall below the EPA’s limit, representatives from EWG still expressed concern, saying the federal limit isn’t strong enough. The organization believes existing science on the potential harms caused by PFAS exposure should compel accepted levels to be dropped down to just 1 ppt. Water samples obtained in only three cities fell below that level: Seattle, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Meridian, Mississippi.

Regulation of PFAS chemicals has become a major issue on Capitol Hill in recent years. In late 2019, several PFAS-related provisions were passed along with the National Defense Authorization Act, but advocates say it fell short by failing to label PFAS as a hazardous substance under the federal Superfund law and failing to establish firm drinking water standards.

The clean-up of PFAS chemicals has come to national attention as a result of widespread contamination at military bases and installations across the country, thanks to the use of firefighting foam contaminated with the chemical. People living on those bases and in the surrounding communities have spoken out about how the contamination has impacted their health. Spotlight on America also discovered the clean up could take decades and cost taxpayers billions of dollars.