Half Of Drinking Water In The U.S. Has “Forever Chemicals” — What To Do

A new study has found that half of the drinking water in the United States contains “forever chemicals,” which may cause cancer and other health problems.

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A new study has found that half of the drinking water in the United States contains “forever chemicals,” which may cause cancer and other health problems. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), drinking water, whether from public systems or private wells, in both large cities and small towns, is contaminated to different degrees by a group of synthetic compounds collectively known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS are commonly referred to as forever chemicals because, as Harvard University explains, they don’t break down in the environment or in our bodies. Instead, these “forever chemicals” are resistant to decomposition by heat, water, or grease. They’re also found in a wide swath of everyday products like cosmetics, food packaging, and toilet paper.

Several peer-reviewed studies have linked PFAS to conditions like decreased fertility, low birth weight, asthma, allergies, high cholesterol, liver damage, thyroid disease, multiple cancers, and reduced immune response, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).

And now, this latest study shows just how pervasive these chemicals are. The USGS study tested water samples from more than 700 locations across the country over a five-year period, testing for the presence of dozens of PFAS.

“The study estimates that at least one type of PFAS — of those that were monitored — could be present in nearly half of the tap water in the U.S.," USGS research hydrologist Kelly Smalling, the study’s lead author, said. "PFAS concentrations were similar between public supplies and private wells."

In March 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first federal drinking water limit requiring utilities to remove the PFAS from drinking water before it reaches households and businesses. However, the government hasn’t placed provisions to stop companies from dumping PFAS into public wastewater systems — which then inevitably make their way into the drinking water.

The EPA says that there are steps households can take to help reduce their exposure to PFAS — the first is to find out if your drinking water is contaminated. “If you get your water from a public drinking water system, reach out to your local water utility to learn about how they may be addressing PFAS as well as ask them to test the water for PFAS or to share information with you if they have already tested the water,” the agency suggests. If your public drinking water system does not have this information, you can find accredited labs to test your water for PFAS.

If your water is contaminated and/or if you’re concerned it might be or just want to reduce your risk overall, another way to reduce drinking contaminated water is to “consider installing in-home water treatment (e.g., filters) that are certified to lower the levels of PFAS in your water,” the agency notes. Although you won’t be able to completely get rid of PFAS in your drinking water, you will be able to reduce your (and your family’s) exposure.

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