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They aren’t called “FOREVER” chemicals for nothing. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll never get away from this monster. And it’s likely that in our lifetime, we’ll see the widespread reach of this invisible beast. 

In a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, water sources at over 700 locations across the country were tested for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Results found almost 45% of tap water in the U.S. is now laced with the toxic PFAS. The areas most affected are California, the Eastern Seaboard, the Great Lakes, and the Great Plains.

Given the link between PFAS and severe health conditions like cancer, birth defects, infertility, and hormone issues, experts find the findings “frightening” due to the scale of the problem. The team only tested 32 types of PFAS out of over 12,000 that exist, which suggests that there may be thousands of undetected chemicals, meaning that the issue could be even more problematic than the study suggests.

Over the course of five years spent collecting samples to detect PFAS levels, the team concluded that taps in densely populated urban centers were generally more laden with the forever chemicals than taps in rural parts of the country. 

This is because everyday household items, such as frying pans and food packaging, contain PFAS that can leach into the water supply. Urban areas often have manufacturing plants located nearby.

The purpose of PFAS compounds is to repel water and oil. They’re what make non-stick cookware much easier to clean and how certain jackets and tents can withstand rain. PFAS can seep into the water when we wash the dishes. The compounds can also seep into our food if the packaging is made to be grease-resistant or if the non-stick coating on pots and pans begins to deteriorate. 

Commonly found in pesticides used to feed crops, PFAS can contaminate the drinking water supply through chemical-rich runoff. In a recent study, researchers from Texas Tech University examined 10 commonly used insecticides on cotton fields that can also be used for other crops. They discovered that 70% of the insecticides contained PFAS, with one insecticide having levels of PFOS – a substance strongly linked to cancer – as high as 19 million parts per trillion (ppt).

The study involved researchers from different regions of the United States, including New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Oregon, and tested 716 water sources, 447 from public supplies and 269 from private wells.

Public water sources are typically owned by state or local government bodies and rely on a centralized system for treatment and distribution. In contrast, private wells are usually located on residential properties.

The study conducted by the Geological Survey from 2016 to 2021 found that PFAS contamination is a significant threat to both public and private water supplies. Obviously, this is a cause for great concern.

The situation appears even more dire at the local level, with certain cities and neighborhoods’ drinking water sources containing levels of PFAS that far exceed those that the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe. 

The problem has received growing attention in recent years thanks in part to the media and advances in testing methods that can detect the chemicals in low levels in the environment and in people.

An expanding body of research into the effects of PFAS exposure has driven home the fact that even low levels of the chemicals can prove toxic. 

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that PFAS could be detected in the blood of about 98 percent of the U.S. population.

The Environmental Protection Agency has recently proposed new, stronger restrictions on maximum permitted levels of the compounds in U.S. drinking water. The agency has yet to disclose the new limits; a final decision is expected before 2024.  

In case you were wondering what the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of PFAS are, here’s a list of the top ten: [Concentrations are measured in parts per trillion (PPT)] 

  1. Brunswick County, N.C. at 185.9ppt
  2. Quad Cities, Iowa at 109.8ppt
  3. Miami, Fla. at 56.7ppt
  4. Bergen County, N.J. at 51.4ppt
  5. Wilmington, N.C. at 50.5ppt
  6. Philadelphia, Pa. at 46.3ppt 
  7. Louisville, Ky. at 45.2ppt
  8. New Orleans, La. at 41.8ppt
  9. Charleston, S.C. at 33.3ppt
  10. Decatur, Ala. at 24.1ppt

For an interactive map, you can click here