PFAS Contamination Found in Drinking Water of 44 Million Americans: Report

Environmentalists indicate that more stringent measures are needed to detect and prevent PFAS drinking water contamination, which poses serious health risks for communities throughout the U.S.

An analysis of recently released government data indicates the drinking water of at least 44 million Americans is contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), more commonly known as “forever chemicals,” since they are known to build up in the environment and human body, leading to a number of serious health risks.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) announced the results of its analysis after combing through new data released last month on tests conducted on water systems nationwide.

The prominent environmental advocacy organization determined that at least 854 water systems nationwide suffer from PFAS contamination.

PFAS include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been widely used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. They are known to persist in the environment and build up in the human body, and there is growing evidence linking exposure to a myriad of adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.

While most of the attention on the chemicals has focused on the use in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which is used to fight fuel-based fires and has resulted in widespread water contamination around military bases, airports and firefighter training locations, PFAS are also found in a number of consumer products, including food containers, bottles and wrappers.

3M Company, DuPont, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products and other manufacturers of chemicals and fire safety products have faced a thousands of PFAS water contamination lawsuits brought by local water providers in recent years, seeking billions in damages.

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The new data was released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5). The rule requires water systems nationwide to test for nearly 30 different PFAS chemicals. However, EWG points out that fewer than one-third of all water systems have so far complied.

This is the second round of water testing data released this year, and according to EWG’s analysis, the two rounds of testing have revealed that 854 water systems nationwide suffer PFAS contamination, serving more than 44 million people. Additional testing is expected to be conducted over the next two years.

Because of the lack of systems tested, EWG warns that the contamination is likely much more widespread than the EPA numbers indicate.

“New research published each week highlights the detrimental effects of PFASD on human health and the environment, and underscores the need for immediate action to combat contamination,” EWG senior scientist Dr. Tasha Stoiber said in the press release. “Unchecked use and releases of PFAS have had devastating consequences on a global scale, affecting people, drinking water, food, fish and wildlife. Almost everywhere we look, we find more PFAS contamination.”

Environmentalists Want More Stringent PFAS Restrictions

Last month, several environmental groups held a webinar calling for states to put in place tougher restrictions and enforcement measures to combat PFAS water contamination.

The panel called for states to pursue legislative options, increased funding, and increased oversight, saying that the surest way to prevent PFAS from contaminating drinking water is to prevent the toxic chemicals from being discharged into water sources in the first place.

The group noted that some states have made “significant progress” on putting PFAS restrictions in place. In 2021, Maine put in place a ban on the use of all PFAS chemicals in products used in that state,  designed to go into effect by 2030. Other states have passed laws restricting its use in certain products, such as firefighting foam and food packaging. However, greater efforts are required throughout the United States to protect individuals in communities nationwide.

Individual Injury PFAS Lawsuits

Manufacturers of the chemicals now face thousands of PFAS cancer lawsuits being pursued by individuals throughout the U.S., which may just be the tip of a litigation iceberg, as more information is learned about the long-term health risks associated with exposure to the toxic chemicals.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense conducted an assessment of PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, indicating 24 installations, with a total population of 175,000, exposed residents to PFAS in drinking water. However, some environmental groups have contested that number, saying at least 116 military instillations are contaminated, exposing more than 640,000 residents to toxic AFFF and PFAS.

Although the manufacturers have reached proposed settlement over damages sustained by local water suppliers, who have been left with the costs associated with cleaning up the toxic chemicals, there have been no settlements in PFAS injury lawsuits brought by individuals exposed to the chemicals through drinking water, or firefighters directly exposed through AFFF foam.

Earlier this year, Judge Gergel directed the lawyers involved in the litigation to select a group of 28 representative personal injury claims for an AFFF injury bellwether pool, involving plaintiffs who say they were exposed to chemicals that contaminated drinking water.

However, the first cases are unlikely to go before a jury for several years. In addition, the outcome of these claims will not have any binding impact on the other individual lawsuits, although they will be closely watched and may impact how much manufacturers may pay to settle lawsuits brought by other plaintiffs.

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