An independent environmental study released last week found that 74 community water systems in California are contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a growing class of extremely toxic fluorinated chemicals. Some systems registered as many as eight PFAS chemicals in a single well.
The wells were tested between 2013, when EPA ordered one-time, nationwide sampling for PFAS
, and 2019. The data was then collected by the Environmental Working Group,
a non-profit organization with a mission of empowering people “to live healthier lives in a healthier environment” by providing breakthrough research and education.
This year, more than 578 parts per trillion (ppt) from eight PFAS chemicals were detected in a well from the City of Corona water system and more than 450 ppt from six PFAS in an Oroville well of the California Water Service Company system.
In 2017, more than 400 ppt from six PFAS were found in a California American Water Company
well for Rosemont and other Sacramento suburbs. That same year, the southern portion of Camp Pendleton, an expansive Marine Corps base in San Diego County, found 820 ppt from seven different PFAS chemicals in a single well.
Overall, more than 40 percent of systems tested had at least one sample with over 70 ppt of total PFAS. The 74 contaminated water systems affect roughly 7.5 million California residents.
The data does not show the current level of contamination in residents’ tap water, but rather the extent of contamination in drinking water sources identified since 2013.
PFAS: The “Forever Chemicals”
PFAS have been nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they never break down once released into the environment, leaving these chemicals to build up in our blood and organs. Even low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, liver and thyroid disease, and other health complications.
PFAS are a category of over 10,000 chemicals
most notably found in fire retardant foams and food packaging. However, they are also found in many everyday consumer products, such as nonstick cookware and furniture.
PFOS and PFOA are among the most notorious PFAS chemicals. Although PFOS and PFOA are no longer manufactured in new products, their widespread previous use makes these highly prevalent and pervasive in many drinking water systems throughout the country.
Where the Regulations Stand
Although EPA has not set a national legal limit for PFAS in drinking water supplies, it issued Lifetime Health Advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS
in drinking water at 70 ppt (separately or combined) in 2016.
States have also begun to take notice. In 2018, New Jersey became the first and only state to establish a maximum contaminant level
(mcl) for any PFAS, when it established a 14-ppt mcl for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), another PFAS-class chemical. Since then, State regulators have proposed limits for PFOA and PFOS.
A bill approved by the Governor of California in July 2019 (AB 756)
, authorizes the state Water Resources Control Board to order public water systems to monitor for PFAS, and require reporting if excess levels of the substances are detected.
In February 2019, US EPA released a PFAS Action Plan.
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