PFAS Have Contaminated US Drinking Water Wells, According to USGS Study
00:08 GMT 26.02.2022 (Updated: 00:47 GMT 26.02.2022)
A new study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) “forever chemicals” are now contaminating both private and public drinking water wells. The study found that 20% of private wells and 60% of public wells in 16 eastern states were contaminated by PFAS chemicals.
PFAS are a group of chemicals used to produce fluoropolymer coatings which, when covered over a product, are able to resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. They are found in clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, non-stick surfaces, and other products that are designed to be resistant to water.
If you have a plastic raincoat, that most likely has PFAS in it, as well as your nonstick cooking pans. The problem? The chemicals that make up these products don’t break down in the environment, and can poison our water, wildlife, and wreak havoc on our bodies’ health.
On Wednesday, farmers in the state of Maine urged lawmakers to pass a bill that would put a stop to the agricultural use of PFAS-laden sludge on their land. Nell Finnigan, a farmer from Ironwood Organic Farm in Albion, Maine, stated at a news conference that she and her family are “teetering on the edge of losing everything” due to PFAS contamination in their hundred-acre farm’s well water.
“Let me share with you what my family stands to lose as a result of this decades old practice of literally s******* where you eat,” said Finnigan. She blames the state, who she believes chose the cheaper option of land supplying sludge derived compost instead of trucking it to landfills.
Finnigan and other farmers went to Augutsa, the state capital of Maine, to urge lawmakers to pass LD 1911, which would ban the distribution of sludge and sludge-derived compost unless it were to be tested for PFAS prior to use, as well as annually.
Some studies have indicated that PFAS are responsible for causing a variety of health issues, such as cancer, reproduction issues, thyroid disease, and liver disease.
“This should set off alarm bells for anyone relying on private well water,” said Scott Faber, vice-president of government affairs with the Environmental Working Group, responsible for tracking PFAS. “One out of five people getting their water from wells could be drinking PFAS- that’s a big number.”
Public utility records show that PFAS are contaminating wells from which over 100 million Americans supply their water from. These estimates do not take into account private wells which are unequipped to filter out PFAS.
The toxic chemicals are most often found in areas that have a greater concentration of human activity and use products made up of PFAS, like airports, military bases, chemical plants, and landfills. Wells which have a greater depth, therefore pulling groundwater which is older, have tested for less PFAS, while wells that pull water from more shallow and newer aquifers, like those in New England, showed higher rates of PFAS, according to the study by the USGS.
Using 254 samples from drinking water wells, stretching from the state of Maine all the way to Illinois, the USGS tested for 24 kinds of PFAS and found 14. A public well in West Virginia showed PFAS levels had reached an amount of 1,500 parts per trillion (ppt), which health officials say is well beyond threatening in regards to human health and safety. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests levels of PFAS should only reach 70ppt at most. Some states have that limit set to only 1ppt.
Former President Trump’s EPA lost more than 800 employees and made room for polluters after he essentially destroyed the government agency, believing environmental rules which protect air, climate, water, and food to be “job-killing.” The responsibility of rebuilding this branch of the government now falls on the shoulders of President Joe Biden, which could prove to be difficult since former EPA staff say they are “traumatized and exhausted” after being Trump’s punching bag for four years.
For more than 20 years, the EPA has failed to regulate PFAS. In 2021, the EPA released a “PFAS Roadmap'' which details a timeline for the next four years in which the EPA hopes to set drinking water standards, wastewater treatment guidelines, health assessments, and hazardous substance designations for “several types” of PFAS.
But according to the USGS, thousands of types of PFAS exist, while regulators only check for about 30. After neglecting to take much action for about two decades, the EPA announcing that they will check for “several types” of PFAS when thousands exist is hardly reassuring.