The Unseen Dangers Lurking in American Drinking Water

Key Takeaways:

  • Millions of Americans are unknowingly consuming water contaminated by hazardous chemicals such as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), potentially leading to various health issues.
  • Some health issues can include cancer, raised cholesterol levels, compromised immune systems, and hormonal imbalances. However, direct causation between these chemicals and health disorders is yet to be explicitly confirmed by studies.
  • Conventional water treatment methods do not eliminate these chemicals and common water filters do not effectively remove them, making it a challenge to avoid PFAS exposure.
  • PFASs were found to be present in higher levels near locations that manufacture or use these substances, military and civilian fire training sites, and wastewater treatment plants.
  • Bottled water might not be a safe alternative, as no safety standards for these compounds are offered for it and chemicals from plastic bottles potentially seep into the water.

Countless Americans are unknowingly consuming water that’s tainted with hazardous chemicals, potentially leading to a variety of health issues, according to recent studies.

Impact on Health

These health repercussions associated with contaminated water can vary, encompassing conditions like cancer, raised cholesterol levels, negatively affected immune systems, and hormonal imbalances.

The Culprit: Polyfluoroalkyl and Perfluoroalkyl

The chemicals causing concern are known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). The safety levels defined by government standards are exceeded by the water consumed by at least 6 million people in the U.S., investigations have revealed.

“These chemicals might have intricate names, but their presence is not limited to scientific usage. Regular people come in contact with them through items such as nonstick cookware and packaging – common things that form part of our daily lives,” comments primary researcher, Cindy Hu.

As Hu elucidates, the main exposure route for PFASs is drinking water. This raises health concerns, despite the fact that direct causation between these chemicals and health disorders is yet to be confirmed by studies.

The Invisible Threat

Although usage of some of these substances was minimized over a decade ago, they persist in the environment. And certain varieties continue to be employed in manufacturing and firefighting foam production.

The actual exposure to PFASs might, however, be greater than what is reported in this study. This is due to the fact that PFASs are not even tested for in the drinking water serving close to 100 million Americans.

Unless citizens have their water tested, they remain oblivious to whether they are being exposed to high levels of PFASs. In addition, the health impact of these chemicals can cumulate over time, considering their tendency to linger in the body.

No Route of Escape

For those exposed to PFASs through their drinking water, avoiding this exposure poses a significant challenge. The ultimate goal should be preventing these toxins from infiltrating our waters to begin with. For areas where PFASs levels are alarmingly high, the local water system must offer an alternative water source.

Conventional water treatment methods do not eliminate these chemicals. Bypassing tap water by reverting to bottled water may not be the ideal solution either, considering the likelihood of chemicals from plastic bottles seeping into the water.

The Findings

The study took into account the quantities of six types of PFASs found in public drinking water, using data gathered from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This included over 36,000 water samples taken across the nation between 2013 and 2015.

The sources of these chemicals such as industrial locations that either manufacture or use PFASs, fire training sites (both military and civilian), and civilian airports – where firefighting foam containing PFASs is an essential, were also inspected.

Consideration was given to the PFASs levels in wastewater treatment plants, which cannot filter out these toxins by ordinary methods, thus increasing the chances of groundwater contamination. The waste material from these plants is often used for fertilizing crops and could add to the spread of these harmful substances.

The brunt of the detected PFASs came from drinking water in 13 states representing 75 percent of toxins found, namely – Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The highest levels of PFASs were identified in watersheds located near industrial sites, military bases, and wastewater treatment plants.

A Seed of Doubt

It’s important to note that the problem is potentially even larger than revealed by these studies. “Roughly 10 percent of community water systems in the U.S. have been tested for these compounds,” states Erik Olson, the health program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The issue of PFASs exposure can get further complicated given that even exposure to tiny amounts could potentially pose a health risk, particularly in pregnant women and developing children.

In the case of known PFASs contamination, options are limited. Resorting to alternative sources of drinking water like bottled water has its own drawbacks, mainly because no safety standards are offered for these compounds in bottled water.

Common water filters, available in supermarkets, do not effectively remove PFASs from water. Though specialized filters that remove all impurities exist, they can be an expensive investment, and maintaining them could equally create a dent in the pocket.

Prevention is key

The most effective resolution is to prevent these pollutants from entering the water supply in the first place.

Find out more on PFASs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

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