Photo by D•• Nyau: https://www.pexels.com/photo/boy-drinking-water-on-faucet-1446504/
A new official study by the government has discovered dangerous levels of micro pollutants in tap water. Nearly half of the tap water sources tested in the survey contained an excess of PFAS, which pose a significant risk to human health. The latest revelations add to a growing body of findings about the sweeping problem of industrial water pollution.
Concern about drinking water pollution has grown steadily in the U.S. since the 1990s. A multitude of scientific research in recent years has uncovered the extent and nature of this issue. It has long been known that around 8-10% of Americans are regularly exposed to unsafe drinking water, and as much as 63 million Americans have been the victims of industrial water pollution over the past decade.
It turns out that the previous studies had actually vastly underestimated the scale of the problem. A new study by the Department of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey tested 700 water samples from across the nation for perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS). The PFAS are an understudied pollutant, commonly known as ‘forever chemicals’, that have been largely ignored in previous studies of water pollution. They consist of microplastics and other substances that can remain undissolved in water and the human body for years. High levels of PFAS exposure in the long term pose hormonal and digestion risks, and have been linked with an increased risk of various forms of cancer.
In March, the first-ever national standards for PFAS pollution were introduced by the EPA and massive violations have been reported since. Around 12,000 types of PFAS are known to exist, but reliable tests have only been developed for a few dozen chemicals so far. The latest study identified and incorporated tests for 32 such pollutants, and found that a staggering 45% of the water samples studied contained PFAS levels higher than the current regulations allow.
The study did not find any difference in terms of PFAS between private and public water sources. According to the study director Kelly Smalling, this result was “very surprising” for the team. It goes on to show how poorly regulated these chemicals have been so far even in the case of direct public supervision.
Other recent studies have shown that people of color and other minority groups are disproportionate adverse effects of PFAS water pollution. This is largely attributable to the concentration of ill-supervised industrial activity in BIPOC communities. One research earlier this year specifically linked the proliferation of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (both PFAS) in the water sources of minority communities to the local development of industrial facilities, military fire training areas, and airports.
The Biden Administration has taken the first significant steps towards addressing in American history. The new regulations introduced by the EPA in March limit the levels of six PFAS in drinking water for the first time on a national scale. In 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan has already allocated nearly $10 billion in funds to combat excessive PFAS levels in drinking water across the nation.