USGS Estimates That Nearly Half of US Tap Water Has 'Forever Chemicals'

USGS Estimates That Nearly Half of US Tap Water Has 'Forever Chemicals'

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are commonly used in a wide variety of products, including nonstick cookware, water and stain-resistant fabrics, and personal care products. Also known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down in nature, they have been detected in water, air, soil, and animals. A new study indicates they’re also very prevalent in tap water across the United States.

The U.S. Geological Survey recently completed broad scale testing of PFAS in tap water, comparing figures from private and government-regulated public water. Estimates stemming from this research show that at least 45% of tap water across the country has at least one type of forever chemical. The agency also notes that its work only tested for 32 types of PFAS, but there are more than 12,000 overall.

Kelly Smalling, USGS research hydrologist and the study’s lead author, says, "USGS scientists tested water collected directly from people’s kitchen sinks across the nation, providing the most comprehensive study to date on PFAS in tap water from both private wells and public supplies. 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. Furthermore, PFAS concentrations were similar between public supplies and private wells.”

The study included tap water samples from 716 low, medium, and high human-impacted areas. Low included protected lands, medium included residential and rural areas with no known PFAS sources, and high included urban areas and locations with known PFAS sources like industry or waste sites. With their findings, the researchers estimate that in rural areas, there’s a 75% chance of no PFAS in the drinking water, while that figure is only 25% in urban areas.

The researchers say the most commonly detected chemicals were PFBS, PFHxS, and PFOA.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, past research has linked PFAS with increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, small decreases in infant birth weights, decreased vaccine response in children, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.

Other research has shown just how widespread their impact is, as well, with forever chemicals being found in baby supplies, pet food, and hundreds of wildlife species.

You can read the USGS’s whole study here.

Michelle Milliken

Michelle has a journalism degree and has spent more than seven years working in broadcast news. She's also been known to write some silly stuff for humor websites. When she's not writing, she's probably getting lost in nature, with a fully-stocked backpack, of course.

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