Here's Where the EPA Found PFAS in Drinking Water

New data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that in some regions of the United States, PFAS concentration levels in public drinking water exceed the agency's Health Advisory level by more than 300%.

March 22 is World Water Day, an annual United Nations Observation Day that focuses on the importance of freshwater and raises awareness about the billions of people worldwide who don't have access to safe water sources.

While the United States has one of the safest public water supplies in the world, the latest water contaminant data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that millions of Americans drink water from public water systems with per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) levels above the EPA's Health Advisory level.

PFAS, or "forever chemicals," are virtually indestructible compounds found almost everywhere in the environment. These chemicals are linked to an increased risk of cancer, developmental delays in children, and reproductive harm. Reports indicate that humans are primarily exposed to forever chemicals through contaminated drinking water.

While there are no drinking water standards for PFAS in public water supplies in the U.S., the EPA has established interim Health Advisories for certain PFAS chemicals, which set the acceptable levels at zero. Levels above zero meet the agency's minimum reporting level.

The fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), published in the Federal Register in 2021, requires the EPA to conduct ongoing water sample collections between 2023 and 2025 to test for 30 chemical contaminants, including 29 PFAS chemicals and lithium.

The EPA's latest water contaminant data represents approximately 24% of the total results the agency expects to receive. The data will be updated every quarter until reporting concludes in 2026.

Testing reveals concerning PFAS levels in public water systems

According to the EPA, nearly half of public water systems tested so far contain one or more PFAS chemicals at concentrations that exceed the agency's reporting levels.

Moreover, testing showed that 831 public water systems contain two or more PFAS at or above reporting levels. The EPA says that mixtures of PFAS can pose a greater health risk than individual chemicals.

According to the data, a significant number of public water systems that serve small and large populations across the U.S. have concentrations of pollutants, including PFAS chemicals, that are much higher than the EPA's reporting level.

For example, an interactive map of testing sites obtained by USA Today shows specific water supplies in New Jersey that serve over 200,000 people contain pollutant concentrations that exceed reporting levels by over 300%.

Several cities in Texas, North Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, and other states report similar PFAS levels in public drinking water supplies. Moreover, testing revealed that some public water systems had even higher PFAS concentrations.

For example, a Madison, Wisconsin, public water system that supplies drinking water to 272,000 residents had levels of two pollutants that were 820% over the EPA's reporting threshold.

One location in Augusta, Georgia, serving 204,000 people had concentrations of seven different pollutants that exceeded reporting levels by 1,000%. Moreover, a public water system that serves nearly 550,000 people in Fresno, California, contained 10 pollutants at levels 1,466% higher than the EPA's reporting levels.

Although the EPA has not published a Health Advisory level for lithium, it has calculated a Health Reference Level (HRL) to screen for the potentially harmful element. To date, 25.6% of public water systems have reported lithium results above the HRL.

Because of the potential health impacts of PFAS in drinking water, the EPA proposed a drinking water standard for PFAS levels in March of last year. If finalized, public water systems will be required to reduce PFAS levels if they exceed the agency's standards.

Until the EPA and other government agencies mitigate the PFAS problem in drinking water, people can reduce the risks of PFAS exposure by using water filters certified to remove these chemicals.

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