PFAS is the new ‘Erin Brockovich contaminant’ of our time, and it may already be in your tap water.
You may have heard of sites like the town of Hinkley, California from the movie Erin Brockovich, where hexavalent chromium contaminated the groundwater.
The EPA just came out with new health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, two pollutants that can affect infertility, cancers, and thyroid problems, among others.
To put it into perspective, the new advisories are lower for PFOA and PFOS than they are for hexavalent chromium (the contaminant in the Erin Brockovich movie). They’ve put out numbers suggesting that these new ‘emerging’ contaminants are on the order of thousand of times worse than hexavalent chromium.
Currently, the water that comes out of your tap if you live in the United States likely contains at least a tiny amount of PFAS chemicals, because it’s found almost everywhere in our environment.
PFAS is a generic term referring to a group of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It’s no secret that these chemicals, which the EPA plans to classify some as hazardous soon, are present and likely detrimental to human health and safety.
However, no one seems eager to take responsibility for the cleanup of these chemicals. And on April 28, 2022, ten water organizations representing American utilities that treat public wastewater, drinking water, stormwater, and reuse water, submitted a letter to Congress for an exemption from PFAS liability.
Why PFAS is the new ‘Erin Brockovich contaminant’ of our time
Part of the reason you don’t hear about PFAS is that they are a group of thousands of chemicals of which only two (so far) have been classified as hazardous: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). Two more are lined up to be classified as hazardous by the EPA: perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), and GenX. They’re not yet regulated in drinking water.
If and when the EPA classifies certain PFAS compounds as hazardous, organizations will be fined if they don’t track the use, transportation, and disposal of PFAS contaminated water (if the discharged water contains levels of PFAS above a certain amount).
Naturally, these said organizations want an exemption because they don’t want to be responsible for something being in the water if they didn’t even put it there.
PFAS removal is high-cost because it requires new infrastructure and ongoing additional maintenance and specialized sampling processes.
In the meantime, the populations on the receiving end of PFAS-laden water should be informed if PFAS is in their tap water.
That’s why we’re reporting on them here! You’re welcome. Now, as you search for your new home, you can avoid moving to a place where PFAS pollutants could be a concern.
States with the greatest number of PFAS contamination in the US
Disclaimer: Sometimes these data can be skewed against states that test for PFAS. This is because if you test for PFAS, you often find it. Therefore, this mapping data from EWG may not represent the actual number of sites, amount of contamination, or health implications for PFAS contamination across the United States. Contact your local water provider for more detailed water quality information.
In alphabetical order, here are the states with the greatest number of PFAS contamination found in drinking water sources:
Let’s take a look at each state more closely in the maps below.
Alabama sees a pretty even distribution of blue dots (contaminated drinking water), but also contamination from industrial and military sites like NASA in Huntsville and the Air Force Base in Montgomery.
California’s contaminated sites are around city centers like Sacramento and Los Angeles.
Colorado has a lot of sites with contamination, but the worst offenders are Denver and Colorado Springs metro areas.
Illinois’ worst cities are Chicago, Saint Louis, Peoria, and Davenport.
Massachusetts has the most even distribution of contamination in their drinking water. Basically, if you want non-PFAS water you’ll have to move to Nantucket.
Michiganders living in the lower half of the “mitten” have slightly more to worry about than those who are almost Canadian. Contaminated drinking water is widely distributed around the outskirts of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and northwest of Detroit.
North Carolina’s distribution of contaminated drinking water is pretty even throughout the state other than a dense pocket around Wilmington.
New Jersey is one of the worst offenders per square mile. The area around New York City is the worst, but all along the border with Pennsylvania is thoroughly spotted.
New Hampshire would be relatively clean if it weren’t for the southeast corner where Concord, Manchester, Dover, Portsmouth, Windham, Merrimack form a ring around an industrial-commercial hub.
Ohio’s data is dispersed throughout the state, but you can see that Dayton and Marietta are just a little worse than Columbus and Cleveland.
South Carolina has three military bases on the coast causing contamination, and then other contaminated waters are dispersed in the northwest half of the state.
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