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Millions of Americans’ drinking water contaminated with ‘Forever Chemicals’, EPA data reveals

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In a disconcerting revelation, data unveiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday highlights that drinking water consumed by millions of Americans residing in numerous communities across the United States is tainted with perilous levels of toxic chemicals.

The alarming findings shed light on a widespread contamination of water systems, stretching from small towns like Collegeville, Pennsylvania to major cities such as Fresno, California.

The toxic compounds in question are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” a class of durable substances that have historically been used in various commercial products, yet their harmful nature has now become evident.

The data, compiled and analyzed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization based in Washington DC, suggests that approximately 26 million Americans are affected by this contamination.

The substances in question, scientifically categorized as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), have been linked to a range of severe health issues including cancers, immunodeficiencies, reproductive harms, and developmental effects in children.

Over the past decades, scientists and environmental advocates have sounded the alarm about the dangers posed by these chemicals.

This led to agreements between the EPA and chemical manufacturers like DuPont and 3M to phase out PFOA by 2015. Despite these efforts, the problem of persistent pollution from these chemicals persists, with studies indicating that nearly all Americans have traces of PFAS in their bodies, likely due to exposure through drinking water.

The EPA’s comprehensive testing initiative, a part of its ongoing 27-year effort to monitor the presence of unregulated chemicals in drinking water, has provided unprecedented insights into the extent of contamination across various communities.

This recent data release marks the first phase of the program, aimed at testing more than 3,300 water systems serving US citizens for nearly 30 different forever chemicals and lithium over the next three years.

The initial findings paint a grim picture: out of approximately 2,000 systems analyzed, 220 were found to contain varying levels of PFOA, PFOS, or both chemicals in their drinking water. This implies that around one in ten drinking water systems harbor these hazardous forever chemicals. When the analysis extends to cover all 29 forever chemicals, the EWG non-profit estimates that the drinking water of roughly 26 million Americans is compromised. This is in line with a previous 2020 study from the same group, which suggested that over 200 million Americans could potentially be exposed to PFAS through their drinking water.

John Reeder, the Vice-President for Federal Affairs at EWG, expressed the significance of the findings, stating, “This data confirms that PFAS is a pervasive problem, and it’s going to be a massive challenge for all of these water systems to deliver safe and clean water.”

The EPA, acknowledging the urgency of the situation, has already proposed new regulations in March to limit the presence of PFOA, PFOS, and other related chemicals in drinking water. This followed updates to the agency’s scientific understanding, which led to a significant reduction in the acceptable levels of these chemicals in drinking water.

Radhika Fox, the EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, emphasized the importance of the new monitoring data, stating, “PFAS are an urgent public health issue facing people and communities across the nation.

The latest science is clear: exposure to certain PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, over long periods of time is linked to significant health risks.”

Despite these efforts, the road ahead remains challenging. Tracy Carluccio from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental non-profit, expressed concern that until regulations are finalized and contaminated drinking water is treated, the health of Americans remains at risk. With the revelation of this data, hundreds of towns and countless individuals may now be confronted with the fact that their water is tainted with PFAS. However, given that the EPA’s testing program is only 7% complete, a significant number of affected individuals might still be unaware of the risks they face.

Andrew Eaton, an expert in water quality consulting, pointed out that the EPA could have gathered similar information a decade ago with more accurate technology. The present data release, though vital, represents a missed opportunity to address the issue earlier.

Despite the challenges, experts emphasize the urgency of swift regulatory action and strict measures against polluters to address this widespread concern.

In summary, the EPA’s recent data release has unveiled a disturbing reality – millions of Americans are unknowingly consuming drinking water contaminated with “forever chemicals.”

This revelation underscores the urgent need for regulatory action and efforts to ensure clean and safe drinking water for all.

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