- Black and Hispanic communities, often located in poorer areas, are more likely to encounter harmful levels of PFAS in their drinking water due to nearby sources of contamination such as manufacturers, military bases, and waste treatment plants.
- PFAS, known as “forever chemicals”, are linked to serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. They persist in the environment due to their stain-resistant and water-resistant properties.
- The EPA is working on implementing the first-ever national drinking water regulation for six PFAS, due to be finalized by the end of 2023. This would establish maximum contaminant levels, which may leave over 25% of the U.S. population exposed to harmful levels of PFAS.
- A study discovered a correlation between the number of nearby PFAS sources and the proportion of people of color living in those areas, showing that each additional source corresponded to an increase in PFAS levels in the drinking water.
- Marginalized populations are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes even at identical exposure levels compared to others, emphasizing the importance of regulating PFAS sources and safeguarding drinking water.
Investigations suggest that Black and Hispanic communities, often in poorer areas of the United States, are more likely to encounter harmful levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their drinking water
PFAS Pollution and Lower-Income Communities
Sources of PFAS contamination, which include major manufacturers, military bases, airports, wastewater treatment plants, and landfills, are frequently located near watersheds that cater to these poorer communities, as per the findings from scholars at a well-known university.
PFAS Exposure in Socioeconomic Groups and Regulatory Measures
Study co-author Jahred Liddie, a PhD student in population health sciences, suggests that sociodemographic groups, already burdened by factors such as marginalization, racism, and poverty, are at a higher risk of PFAS exposure through their drinking water. He emphasized the importance of considering environmental justice in the forthcoming regulations for PFAS in drinking water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on implementing the first-ever national drinking water regulation for six PFAS, expected to be finalized by the end of 2023. This regulation will establish maximum contaminant levels for two PFAS compounds — PFOA and PFOS — at 4 parts per trillion (4 ng/L), and also set limits for the remaining four.
The Negative Impact of PFAS
PFAS, popularly referred to as “forever chemicals”, persist in the environment due to their stain-resistant and water-resistant properties. These chemicals have been linked to various serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
An In-Depth Study on PFAS Contamination
In their recent study, researchers analyzed PFAS monitoring data from nearly 7,900 community water systems throughout 18 states and over 44,000 samples collected from 2016 to 2022. The team also considered the geographic locations of PFAS sources from multiple databases. The investigators noticed an association between the number of nearby PFAS sources in a water system and the proportion of people of color living there.
The study discovered that in the watershed of a community water system, each additional industrial facility, military fire training area, and airport corresponded to an increase in perfluorooctanoic acid level by 10% to 108% and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid level by 20% to 34% in the drinking water.
The Implications of the New Proposed PFAS Level by the EPA
About a quarter of those living in the areas examined were served by community water systems revealing PFAS levels above 5 ng/L. If EPA’s new proposed level of 4 ng/L comes into effect, over 25% of the U.S population will be exposed to PFAS levels that are considered harmful.
The Disproportionate Impact of PFAS Pollution
Co-author of the study Elsie Sunderland, professor of environmental chemistry and of earth and planetary sciences, warns that marginalized populations are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes even at identical exposure levels compared to others. She reiterates the significance of regulating PFAS sources and safeguarding drinking water, especially in the most vulnerable communities, to protect public health.
The public input period for the EPA proposal concludes on May 30. The findings of the study were released on May 15 in the Environmental Science & Technology journal. This research was backed by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
For More Information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers further information about PFAS.
Source: Notable Public Health Institution, News Release, May 15, 2023