Residents of Horsham township, near Philadelphia found that their water had been contaminated with potentially toxic chemicals, known as PFAS in 2014 and filed a lawsuit. But recent research has revealed that the harmful chemicals are still present in the water of more than 1,400 US communities in 49 states.

PFAS is a large complex, and ever-expanding group of manufactured chemicals, including PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals, that are widely used to make various types of everyday products. This is also known as "forever chemicals."

The products that contain PFAS compounds, which are linked to an array of health problems, include food-delivery boxes, nonstick cookware, and stain-resistant clothing. But the most concerning part is its exposure to drinking water, which can happen due to the PFA discharge from factories and other facilities.

Drinking water
Drinking water contamination Pixabay

The Contamination Continues

The PFAS Project at Northeastern University in Boston and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has estimated that more than 100 million people may have had tap water contaminated with PFAS, said Consumer Reports.

In the US the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been investigating PFAS since the 1990s and set a voluntary guideline of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two of the compounds combined—PFOA and PFOS—that are believed to be dangerous. But the agency has not yet issued a nationwide standard on PFAS.

As per David Andrews, senior scientist at the EWG, it is high time the agency should enact the stringent standard as scientists support "a value of 1 ppt or lower to be health-protective." As per Brian Ronholm, CR's director of food policy, "The EPA has not taken a science-based approach to this issue. It is imperative for Congress to pass legislation that establishes PFAS limits in drinking water." As reported, recently CR also tested 47 bottled water and found PFAS in 43 of them.

Take Action

water
Drinking water contamination in US Pixabay

Along with researchers, consumer watchdogs have been urged to take action against culprits. An attorney, Robert Bilott who led a class-action lawsuit several years ago, accusing DuPont of contaminating drinking water with PFAS in the Ohio River Valley, said that he asked the EPA almost 19 years ago to take some action, "and we are still waiting for a comprehensive, national response."

A couple, Frank and Lisa Penna, from the Horsham Township, alleged that one possible explanation for the EPA's delay would be that the government itself is a major PFAS polluter and it has been avoiding substantial cleanup costs.

The couple in a 2016 lawsuit had alleged that PFAS migrated from neighboring Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and then into the groundwater. They said that thousands of gallons of firefighting foam, containing PFAS, had been dumped at the base during exercise. They also claimed that as per the test results of their private well, the PFOA and PFOS levels were 298 ppt and 701 ppt.

Effects Of PFAS

As per the CDC, many studies have examined possible relationships between levels of PFAS in blood and harmful health effects in people, which reiterated that high levels of certain PFAS may lead to:

  • increased cholesterol levels
  • changes in liver enzymes
  • small decreases in infant birth weights
  • Decreased vaccine response in children
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.