Read the full article by Anthony Lacey and Sydney Evans (Environmental Working Group)

“More than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their tap water, and we’ve established that at least 2,800 communities nationwide are affected by these chemicals.

EWG’s latest round of testing – based on residents in 18 states, from California to Connecticut, taking samples of their own tap water – reinforces that message. 

The findings are just a small sample of what to expect when the Environmental Protection Agency releases first-time data from thousands of public water systems across the U.S. that is likely to show the full scale of the PFAS problem is magnitudes of order worse.

The latest testing found more PFAS not only in major cities like Austin, Texas; Denver, Colo. and Los Angeles, Calif. but also smaller communities like Glencoe, Il. and Monroe, N.J. In a number of communities, PFAS had not previously been reported. In some cases, the chemicals were at trace levels and in others are levels of concern to human health.

Most samples detected PFAS, including some that found the two most notorious and well-studied forever chemicals PFOA and PFOS. 

Some of the PFAS detected are being targeted for regulation by the EPA. Certain PFAS have to be reported to the agency by public water systems under a provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. And other forever chemicals, beyond the reach of the agency’s planned regulation or existing reporting requirements, are present in some water systems.

Results of EWG testing

Tested locationZip codeTotal PFAS parts per trillion
Berkeley, Calif.94708Not detected
Burlingame, Calif.94010Not detected
Coronado, Calif.9211822
Los Angeles, Calif.900259
Los Angeles, Calif.900668
Petaluma, Calif.949528
Playa Vista, Calif.900942
Richmond, Calif.9480117
San Anselmo, Calif.94960Not detected
San Francisco, Calif.941213
Denver, Colo.802224
Longmont, Colo.80501Not detected
Old Saybrook, Conn.064754
Simsbury, Conn.0607017
Merritt Island, Fla.329536
Atlanta, Ga.3030711
Glencoe, Ill.6002213
Fishers, Ind.460377
Baltimore, Md.2120110
Baltimore, Md.2123112
Takoma Park, Md.2091226
St. Paul, Minn.5510430
Missoula, Mont.598023
Monroe, N.J.0883182
Brooklyn, N.Y.112262
Brooklyn, N.Y.112313
Coraopolis, Pa.1510830
Pittsburgh, Pa.152288
Nashville, Tenn.372128
Nashville, Tenn.372164
Austin, Texas7872321
Falls Church, Va.2204116
Redmond, Wash.9805216
Seattle, Wash.981043
Elkview, W.Va.250717
New Martinsville, W.Va.2615540

On July 5, the U.S. Geological Survey released a PFAS study that estimated that 45 percent of the tap water in the U.S. could be contaminated with at least one PFAS compound. USGS sampled water from 716 locations, including 269 private wells and 447 public supply sites, and tested for 32 PFAS.

PFAS are known as forever chemicals as they never break down in the environment, and the threat to human health they pose is real and potentially catastrophic.

Very low doses of PFAS in drinking water have been linked to suppression of the immune system, including reduced vaccine efficacy, and an increased risk of certain cancers. PFAS are linked with increased cholesterol, reproductive and developmental problems and other health harms. Their presence in your water means you could be exposed to these risks.

Imminent data from the EPA could reveal the true extent of the PFAS problem, showing much more widespread contamination than we’ve previously been able to confirm.

The EPA readies data release

EWG’s latest testing data come just before the EPA is poised to release the first round of data from a rule that requires many water systems to test for the presence of 29 PFAS that are not regulated under the federal drinking water law – including some that would be regulated by planned EPA regulations.

The data is required under what’s known as the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR 5. All public water systems that serve communities of 3,300 or more people and 800 representative systems serving fewer than 3,300 people must monitor for specific contaminants in their water. UCMR 5 listed the more than two dozen PFAS that these public water systems must monitor, including PFOA and PFOS.

Results of the monitoring data will be released over three years, with the first round of data coming out in July. It’s expected to show thousands of new locations across the U.S. confirmed to have PFAS in their water, affecting millions more Americans than previously known. This dataset would likely support the estimate published by EWG scientists in 2020 that over 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water. 

EWG’s landmark PFAS map established that there are more than 2,800 communities known to be plagued by these forever chemicals – but we’ve always said the true extent of the problem is likely much greater. The EPA’s upcoming data release is expected to back that up.

Our new testing found PFAS at levels covered by the UCMR 5 reporting requirements in some locations, and at levels below the reporting threshold in other areas. And in roughly half of the locations, we found some PFAS that aren’t covered by the 29 chemicals in the UCMR 5. 

The data, combined with EWG’s existing work to extensively map the overwhelming scale of PFAS contamination across the U.S., should help make the case for the EPA to finalize its proposed first-time regulations to tackle forever chemicals in drinking water.

What the EPA is proposing

So what are those EPA regulations?

The Biden EPA is taking the first concrete steps in the agency’s history to tackle PFAS pollution. In March, it proposed bold new limits known as maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, that restrict the amount of six individual PFAS that can be in drinking water: PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS, PFNA and PFHxS. If finalized, this would be the first new MCL for drinking water contaminants by EPA in more than two decades, underscoring the significance of this action announced by Administrator Michael Regan earlier this year. 

In addition to weighing health harms, these limits consider water treatment costs and feasibility. The proposed MCLs are 4 parts per trillion for PFOA and the same for PFOS. For the other four PFAS chemicals, the EPA is proposing a ‘hazard index,’ which is a tool the agency uses to address cumulative risks from mixtures of chemicals. 

While these are the first federal proposed drinking water limits for PFAS, 10 states, including Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York, already have final or interim enforceable drinking water limits for PFAS.

Our recent water testing project had several locations where PFOA or PFOS were detected at varying levels above the EPA’s proposed limit. These communities include Monroe, N.J.; New Martinsville, W.Va.; and Corapolis, Pa., underscoring that contamination from PFAS is an issue that spans across the country.” …