A disturbing new report has found that Americans are more widely exposed to synthetic PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” than previously thought. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated in 2018 that 110 million Americans were potentially exposed to PFAS. New findings released by the watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG), show that this number may be much higher.

“It's nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, senior scientist for EWG.

PFAS, or, perfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals that cannot be broken down by nature or the human body. Exposure to them can have numerous adverse side effects, including cancers, low birth weight in infants, and liver damage.

EWG studied samples of tap water from 44 areas in 31 states and Washington, D.C. Out of all of these sites, only the city of Meridian, Mississippi, was found to show no traces of PFAS, owing to its use of deep wells. Particularly high levels were found in major metropolitan areas, including Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had PFAS levels below 1 part per trillion, the limit advocated by EWG.

Additionally, the watchdog group found that on average, each area showed signs of 6-7 different forever chemicals mixed together. Furthermore, the EPA had failed to publicly report that contamination in 34 of the test sites. In 2012, the agency reported that 36 out of 43 test sites had no PFAS.

“Everyone's really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that almost every American has some level of PFAS in their blood. The health impact of low levels of PFAS has not been determined.

The PFAS Action Plan, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, is a bill making its way through Washington that aims to reduce the continued exposure of humans and the environment to forever chemicals. It also includes measures to clean up contaminated water systems.

Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson. REUTERS