PFAS chemicals are now in the drinking water of about 16 million Americans, new study concludes

You might be one of the 16 million Americans who are drinking polluted water. A recent study found that the drinking water of numerous counties in 36 states tested positive for toxic chemicals called perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), an article in the Bucks County Courier Times stated.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) mapped out communities in the U.S. whose drinking water showed high levels of PFAS. Residents of those counties – like the 70,000 people who live in Bucks and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania – are at risk from potential illnesses.

A decade ago, the sites with known cases of PFAS-contaminated drinking water supplies could be counted on two hands. Now, they number close to 100, said the EWG.

Many of these sites are military installations, which used firefighting foams comprised of those chemicals. Others are located near chemical plants that use PFAS to produce a wide variety of products. (Related: Officials in Michigan release fish consumption advisories after three lakes found to contain cancer-causing chemicals.)

PFAS are a growing problem, yet the EPA is doing nothing

Several studies have linked perfluorinated compounds with unhealthy levels of cholesterol, ulcer-causing colitis, weakened immune systems, underweight newborn babies, and a number of cancers. Researchers warned that they have only begun to scratch the surface of the possible health effects of PFAS exposure.

PFAS exposure is now such a serious concern that legislators have approved millions of dollars of funding for a federal health study on the chemicals. Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet lifted a finger to regulate these potential carcinogens.

Earlier statements from officials of the federal environmental agency stated that the EPA is pondering setting official safe limits for PFAS in drinking water. However, the decision might take as late as 2021.

While the EPA dithers on its decision, states like Michigan and New Jersey have proposed or even passed their own regulations that set maximum limits on the levels of PFAS found in potable water and surface water. Furthermore, the states are limiting the consumption of edible sport fish caught in contaminated waters.

Pennsylvania is thinking about regulating a particular PFAS called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that has been found in the water supply of its counties.

Study warns that low levels of PFAS are widespread

A prepared statement from the EWG called out the EPA for dilly-dallying when more and more PFAS contamination sites are popping up. The nonprofit’s investigative editor, Bill Walker, opined that a national crisis needed a response on the national level to oversee states that are already setting up internal standards for cleanup.

As part of their study, the EWG released an online interactive map that showed every state east of the Mississippi River – except for Mississippi itself – had at least one PFAS chemical in its drinking water. The pollutants were also found in 11 states west of the river, including Arizona, Minnesota, and Washington.

The map drew on data gathered by the EPA from 2013 to 2015, when the federal agency took water samples from across the nation. The sampling effort was the same one that located many of the contaminated sites.

The EWG pointed out the drawbacks of the federal study: Not only did the EPA focus on large water systems for the most part, it also set detection limits for PFAS that some researchers considered to be excessive.

Researchers suspect that low levels of PFAS are present in numerous smaller water systems. The chemicals are spread so widely due to their persistent properties that resist degradation by environmental factors like bacterial action and sunlight.

Find out how you can filter PFAS and other toxic chemical pollutants from your drinking water at

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