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A new study by an environmental working group warns that toxic chemicals used in firefighting foam, food packing material and other products are more widespread in U.S. drinking water sources than expected.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued a press release on January 22, warning that test results indicate perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), toxic chemicals linked to potential cancer risks and other side effects, are likely ubiquitous in U.S. waters.
The environmental group says this suggests that the number of Americans exposed to the chemicals has been vastly underestimated in the past.
PFASs have been used to manufacture a number of products, including food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and firefighting foams. Due to PFAS chemicals ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water, they have become a popular component in artificial grass products.
“Based on our tests and new academic researcher that found PFAS widespread in rainwater, EWG scientists now believe PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S., almost certainly in all that use surface water,” the group states. “EWG’s tests also found chemicals from the PFAS family that are not commonly tested for in drinking water.”
The group tested water samples from 44 locations in 31 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, had no detectable levels. Two other locations had levels below those which are considered a risk to public health by EWG. The remaining 41 locations exceeded that level, according to the findings.
However, the EWG has a much more stringent safety level for the chemicals, 1 part per trillion (ppt), compared to the EPA’s 70 ppt limit. By the EPA’s measure, only samples in Brunswick County, North Carolina, and Quad Cities, Iowa, surpassed safe limits.
EWG scientists found that 34 places where contamination were found had levels that had not been publicly reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or environmental agencies in those states. Water utilities are not required to report PFAS levels to the EPA or other agencies, since the chemicals are not regulated.
The group refers to PFAS as “forever chemicals”, because they do not break down and continue to build in water supplies, as well as in human blood and organs.
PFAS Health Concerns
PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, since then, the chemicals have been linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
The chemicals are projected to take thousands of years to degrade, and past studies have shown their ability to enter and stay in the environment and human body through the air, dust, food, soil, and water. Previous U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies have shown PFAS chemicals primarily settle into the blood, kidney and liver, and could likely be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population.
In June, a federal investigation found that PFAS chemicals are commonly found in numerous food products, including meats, seafood, chocolate, cake and other products. However, the FDA released a statement indicating that the levels found do not raise health concerns, based on the best available science.
3M Company, Tyco Fire Products and Chemguard, Inc. face dozens of fire-fighting foam lawsuits filed by both individuals and municipalities nationwide, each involving similar allegations that the companies knew or should have known about the risks associated with exposure to PFAS within its aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which has been used by the military over the last several decades during routine fire extinguishing exercises at military bases nationwide.