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44 Million Americans Drink PFAS-Contaminated Water, Says New Study

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The EPA indicates the drinking water of at least 44 million Americans is contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), aka “forever chemicals”. And PFAS water contamination lawyers are busy.

Washington, DCData released by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that 44 million people in the U.S. have toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in their drinking water, but that could be just the tip of the iceberg as the full scale of PFAS contamination is likely much more widespread. However, scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimated in 2020 that more than 200 million Americans are exposed to forever chemicals in their drinking water.

The discrepancy could be due to fewer than one-third of all water systems having so far complied to the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which published data from 2023. The rule requires water systems nationwide to test for nearly 30 different PFAS chemicals. According to EWG’s analysis, 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.

This recent data released by the EPA reports PFAS detections at 4 parts per trillion, or ppt, for these PFOA or PFOS chemicals. But the 2020 study published by the EWG found PFOA or PFOS in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion.

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

Environmental groups are calling for states to put in place tougher restrictions and enforcement measures to scale back PFAS water contamination, and attorneys are filing more PFAS injury lawsuits against manufacturers of the chemicals. (EWG estimates there could be nearly 30,000 industrial polluters releasing PFAS into the environment, including into sources of drinking water.)

To date, thousands of individual PFAS cancer lawsuits have been filed, but attorneys think that’s just the tip of the litigation iceberg as more reports such as above are published and more people learn about long-term health risks associated with contaminated water and other types of PFAS exposure, such as food and food packaging, and cookware. For instance, EWG research shows that microwave popcorn bags and grease-resistant paper have been shown to use PFAS and the organization advises that products made with these chemicals should be avoided whenever possible. (On February 28, 2024 the FDA announced that substances commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” are no longer permitted for use in the production of food packaging that is resistant to grease, such as containers used for take-out food. An EWG report details ways that you can lower PFAS exposure).

PFAS Litigation

February was a busy month for water contamination lawyers and policy makers.
  • The federal government argued for the dismissal of New Mexico’s claims that the military is responsible for environmental damage attributed to the use of fire-fighting foams containing PFAS.
  • A PFAS lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois by a resident alleges that his diagnosis of testicular cancer was caused or contributed to by exposure to PFAS, TCE, and other toxic chemicals.
  • Policymakers in 36 states are set to review over 450 bills targeting toxic chemicals, with a significant focus on PFAS, as reported by Safer States.
  • At least 25 states will consider laws to curb plastic pollution and waste, while at least 15 states are expected to examine regulations on harmful chemicals in cosmetics, along with other environmental health issues like microplastics in drinking water and chemical disclosure.
  • Seneca County filed a federal lawsuit the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York against a former NY Army depot over its use of firefighting foam that contaminated the county’s drinking water with PFAS, leading to serious health concerns. The PFAS lawsuit claims the Department of Defense’s prolonged use of these dangerous substances has led to the county’s water supply.
  • Carneys Point Township in New Jersey is seeking to delay the final approval of a $393 million settlement between the state and an American branch of a Belgian chemical company, concerning contamination from “forever chemicals.”
  • A North Carolina court has ruled that current subsidiaries and spinoffs originating from the chemical giant E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. may be accountable for alleged contamination from PFAS. It refers to a 2020 lawsuit regarding pollution affecting the state’s air, land, and water through activities at the Fayetteville Works chemical plant in North Carolina. The lawsuit names all three DuPont companies, including E.I. du Pont and The Chemours Co.
  • The EPA has proposed two significant waste rules aimed at addressing the management of hazardous wastes, including specific PFAS chemicals. The most important rule seeks to classify nine particular PFAS chemicals as hazardous constituents under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
  • A PFAS lawsuit was filed by the Village of Johnson City, focusing on allegations of environmental contamination and damage caused by PFAS coming from the U.S. Air Force (called Plant 59). The Village argues that for six decades, activities at USAF Plant 59 have created a substantial risk of PFAS contamination to surface soils, sediments, stormwater runoff, and groundwater, and that USAF Plant 59 knew or recklessly disregarded the risk that such contamination would substantially harm the Village and its water customers.


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