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Millions of Americans may be drinking water contaminated with toxic chemicals linked to behavioral problems, birth defects, cancer, high cholesterol levels and infertility, a new report finds.
Researchers from the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University found 610 sources in 43 states that contained unsafe levels of man-made chemicals in water known as PFAS chemicals.
An interactive map documents publicly known pollution sites across the U.S., including public water systems, military bases, military and civilian airports, industrial plants, dumps and firefighter training sites.
PFAS chemicals, used in hundreds of consumer products, have been linked to weakened childhood immunity, thyroid disease, cancer and other health problems. PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly in 3M’s Scotchgard, have been phased out in the U.S., but manufacturers have replaced them with chemically similar, largely untested compounds that may be no safer according to a press release from the EWG.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has utterly failed to address PFAS with the seriousness this crisis demands, leaving local communities and states to grapple with a complex problem rooted in the failure of the federal chemical regulatory system,” said Ken Cook, president of EWG, which has studied these compounds for almost two decades. “EPA must move swiftly to set a truly health-protective legal limit for all PFAS chemicals, requiring utilities to clean up contaminated water supplies.”
There are no legally enforceable limits for PFAS chemicals under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA’s non-binding health advisory level for drinking water is 70 parts per trillion, or ppt, for PFOA and PFOS, separately or in combination.
Michigan has 192 sites on the map, followed by California at 47, and New Jersey at 43. The map also documents 117 military sites.
However, a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency cautions the map "seems to show any samples for PFAS chemicals that have been collected, which may or may not be detections."
"EPA has not fully reviewed the quality of the underlying data, and based on the agency's commitment to good risk communication with the public, EPA cannot recommend the map be used to determine where public health risks associated with PFAS chemicals may or may not exist," John Konkus, the EPA's deputy associate administrator for public affairs, wrote in an email to U.S. News & World Report. "The agency's efforts continue to be focused on taking the actions committed to in the PFAS Action Plan."