PFAS Chemicals in Tap Water More Widespread Than Thought

A new U.S. government study that finds toxic PFAS chemicals could be present in nearly 50% of the nation’s tap water “should sound alarm bells for people across the country,” says a Michigan citizen leader on PFAS policy.

Tony Spaniola, who co-founded and co-chairs the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network and serves on the Leadership Team of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition said “It is staggering that nearly half of all Americans have PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in their tap water.” 

“But it’s even more staggering that the study only tested for 32 of the more than 12,000-plus PFAS chemicals that are used in commerce. If the study had tested for all of those chemicals, it’s reasonable to infer that many more Americans are likely to have PFAS in their tap water.”

The study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, tested for 32 individual PFAS compounds from 716 locations representing a range of low, medium and high human-impacted areas. Water from public water supplies and private wells was analyzed. The most frequently detected compounds in this study were PFBS, PFHxS and PFOA. The interim health advisories released by the U.S. EPA in 2022 for PFOS and PFOA were exceeded in every sample in which they were detected in the study. 

Michigan’s PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) coordinated monitoring of public water supplies between 2018 and 2020. Approximately 80 public water supplies tested returned results greater than 10 parts per trillion of total tested PFAS. But only three supplies were found to have PFOS plus PFOA over a federal health advisory.

MPART had also confirmed 257 PFAS sites (map), including landfill, airports, former manufacturing sites and others as of May 8, 2023. 

PFAS chemicals have been used in clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and the insulation of electrical wire. Possible human health effects include increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and low birth weight in infants.

Spaniola pointed out that there still are no federal drinking water regulations for any PFAS chemicals. The EPA is presently proposing to regulate only six PFAS chemicals, while Michigan regulates only seven of them.

He added: “We all need to demand from our elected officials and regulators that the entire class of PFAS chemicals be regulated and banned from use in commerce, except only in relatively rare instances in which their use is absolutely essential.”

Abigail Hendershott, executive director of MPART, says the fact Michigan has been sampling public water supplies for several years will enable state officials to assess the implications of EPA’s proposed drinking water standards for PFAS.

The new federal study, which includes test results from private wells, underscores the importance of doing more water sampling of private water than has been done in Michigan, Hendershott says. The state has sampled about 6,000 private wells in the course of investigating specific sites, but there are more than 1 million private wells in Michigan.

“MPART will continue to look for ways to promote private drinking water sampling to protect public health,” she said.

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