KEY POINTS

  • Schools in 18 states were found to have water systems with dangerously high levels of PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals"
  • PFAS are found in common daily items and can be toxic if allowed to buildup inside the human body
  • A measure designed to address PFAS levels in public water systems passed the House but died in the Senate

A study published Thursday warned water systems for numerous schools and day care centers in 18 states may have been contaminated by toxic chemicals produced at nearby chemical plants.

The Environmental Working Group conducted the study by looking at the water systems for schools across the U.S. at risk of contamination, focusing on finding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS or fluorinated “forever chemicals.”

“Suspected industrial dischargers of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS are located less than a mile of 27 schools or child care facilities that maintain their own water systems,” Environmental Working Group policy analyst Jared Hayes and senior scientist Tasha Stoiber said in the report. “Schools or child care facilities in 18 states, including Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, were located within 5,000 feet of manufacturers that are known or suspected of producing or using PFAS.”

PFAS are chemicals commonly found everyday items, such as household cleaning and food storage products.

“Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time,” the Environmental Protection Agency said on its website. “There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans,” including  weakened immune system, hormone disruption and cancer.

The Environmental Working Group encouraged schools to test their water systems thoroughly to minimize PFAS exposure to children.

“We don’t know the full scope of PFAS pollution in our water, but we do know that where you look for PFAS contamination, you usually find it,” Hayes said in a press release.

“There’s a high probability that these sites are discharging PFAS near these schools, so the schools should test their water. It’s unconscionable that parents and families bear this burden while companies are able to legally discharge these chemicals.”

Currently, neither the Clean Water Act nor the Safe Drinking Water Act requires schools to test their water for PFAS. The most common contaminant schools currently test for is lead even though the testing requirement has been criticized in the past as being “incomplete and inadequate.”

Congress previously introduced legislation to address unsafe PFAS levels in public water systems. The first was the PFAS Action Act of 2019, which passed through the House in January with bipartisan support but stalled in the Senate amid Trump administration opposition. The second, the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act of 2020, was introduced in January but has yet to gain traction in the House.

“This alarming study highlights widespread PFAS contamination that our advocates have been highlighting for years,” Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., told the Environmental Working Group. “It is time to take action to protect the health and safety of our communities, and as we complete our work on the Water Resources Development Act we must set deadlines for EPA to reduce industrial discharges of PFAS into our water.”

covid-19 in schools covid-19 in schools Photo: Alexandra_Koch - Pixabay