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Consumer Reports Investigation Found PFAS Contamination Widespread in U.S. Tap Water

East County News Service

April 21, 2021 (Washington D.C.) -- Consumer Reports (CR) is calling on Congress to pass legislation just introduced by Representatives Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton that aims to protect the public from the growing health threat posed by PFAS “forever chemicals.” PFAS are widely used by manufacturers to make products resistant to stains, grease, and water, and are so pervasive that 95 percent of all Americans have trace amounts of the chemicals in their blood.

The bill mirrors the PFAS Acton Act of 2019, which passed with a bipartisan vote in the House, but did not advance in the Senate before the end of the last session.

“Most people have probably never heard of PFAS chemicals, but they are used in hundreds of popular products found in many homes,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports. “Despite mounting evidence that PFAS contamination is widespread and can pose serious health risks, the EPA has failed to take the steps needed to protect the public. This bill is long overdue and requires sensible limits on PFAS and cleanup of contaminated sites to help minimize public exposure to these extremely toxic and dangerous chemicals.” 

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are sometimes called “forever chemicals'' because they don’t break down easily and persist in the environment for many years. PFAS are used in the manufacture of a variety of consumer products, including firefighting foam and protective equipment, food packaging, rugs, carpets, and aftermarket stain and water treatment. People can be exposed to PFAS through food, water, consumer products that contain the chemicals, and contaminated soil, dust, and air. 

A recent CR investigation of tap water in the U.S. found that nearly every sample tested contained measurable levels of PFAS. More than one-third of all samples exceeded 10 parts per trillion (ppt) total PFAS, a safety threshold that CR scientists and other health experts think should be the maximum amount allowed in water. There are no enforceable limits set by the EPA for PFAS in drinking water. Instead, the EPA has established a voluntary combined limit of 70 ppt for PFOA (perfluoroalkyl) and PFOS (polyfluoroalkyl), two of the better-studied PFAS chemicals.

Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS chemicals is associated with immunotoxicity, cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, and decreased sperm quality. PFAS exposure reduces the immune response to childhood vaccines and may increase the risk of infectious disease. In addition, PFAS exposure has been directly linked to several underlying conditions that make people more vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including obesity, asthma, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.

The PFAS Action Act of 2021 designates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program and requires the EPA to mandate the cleanup of sites contaminated with the two PFAS chemicals. Within five years, the EPA would be required to determine whether the remaining PFAS chemicals should be designated as hazardous substances requiring cleanup.

In addition, the bill requires the EPA to adopt a drinking water standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act for certain PFAS to ensure the public is protected, particularly pregnant women, infants, and children. The legislation also sets PFAS air emission limits, prohibits unsafe incineration of PFAS, and restricts the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into commerce.

“I live near one of the most PFAS polluted rivers in the nation--the Cape Fear River,” says Emily Donovan (photo, right), co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, based in Wilmington, North Carolina. As one of 300,000 people whose drinking water source is chronically polluted with hundreds of unregulated PFAS, I urge Congress to take bold action and address these toxic forever chemicals. The EPA must stop approving new uses for PFAS, phase out current usage, force strong health-protective standards to protect our air, soil, water and food supply, as well as, require a full cleanup from all responsible parties.” 

Erik Olson, senior strategic director of health for the National Resources Defense Council, concludes, “We have to treat the PFAS crisis like a five-alarm ‘house on fire.’ Toxic PFAS forever chemicals taint our water, soak our environment, and contaminate our bodies. The PFAS Action Act is a good first step towards finally addressing the thousands of toxic forever chemicals. We need fast action on the whole toxic family of PFAS chemicals to eliminate them from our environment and bodies.”

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