Read the full article by Lisa Fletcher, Andrea Nejman, Alex Brauer, and Larry Deal (Spotlight)

… “As the EPA continues to review PFAS chemicals and draft more stringent restrictions on their levels in water, there is increasing interest in the scientific community over just how contaminated US drinking water sources may be.

So we decided to test what’s coming out of taps, from suburban homes and city businesses, to the halls of government.

We collected samples at 11 locations in Maryland, Virginia, and in Washington, DC, including at the US Capitol and inside the lobby of the EPA.

We sent the tests to Suburban Labs, one of a handful of specialized labs across the country that is certified to test for 18 PFAS chemicals.

More than a third of our samples contained PFOA, (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) generally viewed by experts as one of the most serious PFAS chemicals. In two of our tests in suburban Virginia homes, the levels of PFOA were more than 12-hundred times higher than the EPA’s proposed advisory level of .004 parts per trillion.

These advisory levels, measured in parts per trillion concentrations, are values at which the EPA believes adverse health effects are not anticipated to occur over a specific period of time. The EPA says its health advisory levels are designed to ‘protect people from adverse health effects resulting from exposure throughout their lives to contaminants in drinking water.’

The current level – which is based on what scientists tell us are outdated models when lower detection was not possible and less was known about PFOA and PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate) – is 70 parts per trillion. New, dramatically lower levels, based on the EPA’s suggestion of .004 parts per trillion, are expected to be settled upon in the coming months.

To get a better understanding of our findings, we brought our results to Dr. Linda Birnbaum, a leading toxicologist and expert on PFAS. She is the former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and spent 19 years at the EPA, where she directed the largest division focusing on environmental health research.

While there are more than 12,000 PFAS chemicals, labs are only capable of testing for a tiny fraction of them. And there’s constantly new data emerging about the dangers of PFAS. After reviewing our test results, we asked Birnbaum what she found most troubling.

‘That they’re everywhere,’ she said. ‘That you’re seeing these chemicals, essentially, everywhere. And I think it’s not just one chemical, it’s several chemicals that are pretty much in almost every sample that you took. The levels are low, which is the good news, but they’re still there.’

One of the chemicals we detected that she was perhaps most concerned about is called PFHxS. We found it in the tap water of two Maryland homes. ‘That one really concerns me because there are growing amounts of animal and human data showing that PFHxS may be every bit as bad as, say, PFOS and PFOA and it lasts in our bodies for a longer period of time,’ said Birnbaum.

Another PFAS chemical that we found in nearly every sample, including at the Capitol and EPA, is called PFHxA. It’s a large sub-set of PFAS – and while there are no bans on it in the United States, it is on the cusp of having restrictions on all of its uses in the European Union. The European Chemicals Agency’s Committee on Risk Assessment recently endorsed such restrictions because of PFHxA’s persistence in the environment and harmful effects on the human reproductive system. A recent study found PFHxA and other PFAS, in breast milk.

According to a 2020 study by the Environmental Working Group, PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S. In a sampling of water from 44 places in 31 states, EWG found the toxic chemicals in tap water in every state it tested and the District of Columbia. Consistent with what we found in our tests, each EWG sample with detectable levels contained six or seven PFAS compounds.” …