More than 70 million Americans drink tap water containing toxic “forever chemicals” linked to cancer, official data suggests.
These microscopic man-made chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), can take thousands of years to break down in the environment or the human body, hence the name “forever chemicals.”
They have been linked to several long-lasting health problems, including several types of cancer, hormonal disruptions, and liver damage, and the health problems they cause are quietly costing you $250 billion a year in healthcare.
The new results showed that PFAS was present in 33 percent of the systems tested by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the contamination being most common in densely populated coastal cities.
More than 70 million Americans drink water that has tested positive for toxic “forever chemicals,” research has shown.
PFAS are a common contaminant in many household items, from kitchen utensils to hamburger wrappers. It can remain in the environment and human tissue for years, even decades, before being eliminated.
The EPA released data on February 1 reflecting testing conducted in 2023 on 3,700 water systems nationwide, representing one-third of public water supplies.
The results were then extrapolated and applied to population figures in an analysis by the advocacy organization Environment Working Group (EWG).
“Total PFAS contamination is likely much more widespread,” an EWG spokesperson said, because the report only provides a snapshot of the situation in the United States.
The hardest hit areas are along the East Coast, including New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
The main purpose of PFAS compounds is to repel water and oil, which is what makes nonstick cookware much easier to clean and why certain jackets and tents can withstand rain.
PFAS can leach into the water supply simply by washing dishes. Compounds can also end up in our food if the packaging is made to be grease-resistant (think fast-food cheeseburgers) or if the nonstick coating on pots and pans begins to deteriorate.
PFAS are also common in pesticides used to feed crops.
This produces chemical-rich runoff that can enter the drinking water supply.
In March 2023, the EPA proposed the first federal limits for PFAS in drinking water.
The agency said the water could contain no more than four parts per billion of PFOA and PFOS, which is the detection limit for both chemicals.
Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the EWG, said: “There are many other steps we must take to reduce PFAS pollution, including ending non-essential uses of PFAS, ending industrial discharges of PFAS into the air, and water, cleaning up legacy PFAS contamination and properly disposing of PFAS waste.’
About 270 million Americans rely on public sources for drinking water, while another 40 million use private wells, all of whom could be affected.
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 the EPA considers safe.
The issue has received increasing attention in recent years, in part due to increased media attention as well as advances in testing methods that can detect chemicals at low levels in the environment and in people.
And a growing body of research on the effects of PFAS exposure has made it clear that even low levels of these chemicals can be toxic.
Unfortunately, they’re almost everywhere, from nonstick cookware, fast food wrappers and popcorn bags, and stain removers, to cosmetics and firefighting foam.
‘Forever chemicals’ are so called because they break down in the environment incredibly slowly and can remain in the body for decades or even longer before being eliminated.
Some varieties of PFAS have been shown increase LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels That contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, slowly blocking blood flow in the arteries, greatly increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Long-term exposure to PFAS, which is not out of the question given their constant presence in homes, can seriously damage the liver.
U.S. government researchers concluded in 2022 that when humans and rodents were exposed to the three common varieties of PFAS, they showed elevated levels of an enzyme called ALT, a marker of liver damage, in their blood.
PFAS also disrupt the delicate hormonal balance that has profound effects on our physical and mental health. This includes sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone which, when manipulated, can Impact on reproductive health and fertility..
Women exposed to PFAS during pregnancy have increased risks of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure. Meanwhile, babies exposed to chemicals in the womb have increased risk of low birth weight and an increased risk of childhood obesity and infections later in life.
Disruption of normal hormonal regulation can also cause serious damage to the thyroid.
There is also evidence that exposure over a long period of time can contribute to cancer riskparticularly in the kidneys and testicles.