Millions of Americans might be drinking contaminated water containing toxic chemicals which are linked to several health issues. These include birth defects, behavioral problems, high cholesterol levels, cancer, and infertility.
The researchers of the Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found out that there are 610 sources in 43 states which contained chemicals in the water. The study provides that the water has unsafe levels of man-made chemicals which are known as PFAS chemicals.
In this article, we will discuss more the report of EWG and Northeastern University. We will tackle the PFAS chemicals, what it does to the body, and how can we eliminate it to the water. Moreover, we will introduce the current move of the government authorities regarding the issue. Finally, we will talk about the steps that you can do at home to combat water contamination.
The Report of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Northeastern University
The Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute of the Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a map which documents the PFAS. It includes the publicly popular sites across America. Examples of which are the military bases, public water systems, civilian and military airports, dumps, industrial plants, and firefighter training sites.
In July 2018, there were only 172 contaminated sites in 40 states across America. Now in 2019, in the 43 states of America, there are 610 drinking water resources which contain unsafe levels of PFAS. It was estimated that there are around 19 million people who are exposed to such man-made chemicals. These chemicals have been linked to infertility, thyroid disease, and weakening of the immune system. According to EWG, the available data is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the interactive map, the EWG has included those who are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 70 parts per trillion.
In the map, Michigan has 192 sites which reflects the most comprehensive program of America. This is followed by California with 47 and New Jersey at 43. According to the map, there are also 117 military sites.
According to Phil Brown, the director of the Science Environmental Health Research Institute, the leaders in states and communities are exerting effort to raise awareness with regards to PFAS chemicals. They are pushing for cleanup to help with the issue. But the institute demands action since this is a national crisis. He prays that the EPA must demand immediately to evaluate all the PFAS chemicals and have their use restricted. The institute demands that the polluting industries must be held responsible for the problem.
PFAS chemicals are used by millions of people around the world on their consumer products. The Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals which include GenX, PFOS, PFOA, and others.
These chemicals have been very persistent in the human body and in the environment. Continuous exposure is linked to several health issues. These chemicals don’t break down and they have the ability to accumulate through time.
In the past, PFAS are known as PFOA. It was used to make Teflon by DuPont and Scotchgard of 3M’s. However, it has been phased out by the government authorities. Meanwhile, the manufacturers have replaced them with a similar and untested compound which might not be safer than the first version.
PFAS can be found in the following:
- Food packaging that includes materials with PFAS, equipment that is processed with PFAS, or grown in the soil or water contaminated by PFAS.
- Commercial household products which include non-stick products, stain and water repellant fabrics, paints, waxes, and fire-fighting foams. This is the reason why there is major contamination found in the military bases and airports where firefighting activities take place.
- A workplace which includes the production industries or facilities. Example of this is the oil recovery, chrome planting, and electronics manufacturing which uses PFAs.
- Localized drinking water which is associated with a specific facility. Example of this is landfill, wastewater treatment plant, manufacturer, and firefighter training center.
- Living organisms like animals and human beings where the PFAS can persist and build up over time.
Due to the PFOA Stewardship Program, there are PFAS chemicals which are no longer manufactured in America anymore. The eight major chemical manufacturers in the United States have agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and other related chemicals in their products. Also, they did abide to eliminate its emissions from their facilities.
However, even though PFOS and PFOA are no longer manufactured in America, they can still be produced internationally. These products can be imported in the United States via consumer goods like apparel, carpet, leather, textiles, rubber, plastics, and coatings.
Effects of PFAS
Indeed, PFAS are found in various consumer products that we use every day like the pizza boxes, stain repellants, and the cookware. As such, we have been exposed PFAS on a daily basis.
There are PFAS that can accumulate and stay in the body over time. There are studies conducted that exposure to PFAS can cause adverse health effects to human. Studies conclude that these chemicals can cause developmental and reproductive problems. It can cause kidney, liver, and immunological effected when tested with animals in a laboratory setting. These chemicals lead to a tumor in the animals. The findings also include increased cholesterol levels. Other findings are the following:
- Effects on the immune system
- Low infant birth weight
- Hormone or thyroid disruption
Efforts of the Government Authorities
According to Ken Cook, the president of the EWG, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to address the PFAS. With the current crisis the country is facing, it has left the states and the local communities to grapple with the problem which is rooted in a chemical regulatory system. As such, the EPA must move immediately to create a legal limit for all the PFAS chemicals. The utilities must clean up their contaminated water supplies.
Currently, there are no legally enforceable limits with regards to the PFAS chemicals in accordance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Moreover, the 70 parts per billion health advisory of the EPA is far too high. The EWG endorses the standard made by Dr. Phillipe Grandjean from Harvard which is 1 part per trillion. According to him, even this level can bring adverse health effects to the children such as repressed immune system function.
Meanwhile, the EPA states that they have not fully reviewed the data presented by the EWG. Moreover, EPA provides that they cannot recommend the use of the map to determine the risk associated with PFAS chemicals. The agencies efforts still continue to focus on their PFAS Action Plan. This is according to John Konkus, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Affairs of the EPA.
In March 2019, two PFA monitoring bills were forwarded in the Congress. The House version of the bill provides that this aims to enhance and inform assessments of exposure. Also, this aims to determine environmental impacts plus remediation priorities. On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are asking the researchers for a multi-site study with regards to the effects of PFAS exposure on the humans.
Avoid PFAS Exposure Now
The EPA provides that they will conduct more studies to verify the data presented by the EWG. But, to protect your home from the consequences of PFAS, you can try these easy steps now:
Skip the Microwave Popcorn and Fast Food
PFAS chemicals contain oil and water repellant properties. With this, the fast-food industry considers it a valuable item for their packaged foods. In a 2017 research, it has been found out that half of the 400 food containers or wrappers contain fluoride which is an indicator of PFAS.
PFAS found in the container can leach the food. Once it enters the body, it can stay there for many years. Indeed, there are enough reasons why we must skip eating fast foods and this can be another one. If you wish to eat it, you can get the food out of the container or wrapper as fast as possible. This can help alleviate the problem a little bit.
Be Careful with the Use of Water-Resistant and Stain Products
Another use of the PFAS is for making clothes, upholstery, carpets, and other water-resistant or textiles-stain products. The older version of the chemicals has been phased out due to associated environmental and health risks. But the newer ones have taken their place.
To be safe, you can avoid the water, stain, or soil repellants as much as possible. But if you already own products with PFAS, you don’t have to panic. The harm that can happen to a person with PFAS is quite minimal. The concerns come in when these chemicals are released during its manufacture and when they are disposed and dumped in the landfill. If you can make smarter choices, you can find other alternatives in the market. This will be better for you, your home, and your environment.
Think About Buying or Eating your Seafood
Since PFAS are prevalent in our ecosystem, it can also accumulate in the animals’ tissue and we consume it as our food. For example, these chemicals can be found in seafood. Buying organic will not even reduce your exposure from PFAS.
A tip you can try is to choose a fish that is lower on the food chain. You might be doing this tip already if you are concerned with heavy metals like mercury. For example, instead of buying swordfish, you can buy salmon instead.
Don’t Buy New Nonstick Pan
If you already own pans or pots with these type of chemicals, you don’t have to throw them or stop using them not until they get damaged. However, stop yourself from buying a new set either. If you really would like to buy a new one, make sure that it does not contain any PFAS.
Experts recommend buying ceramic, stainless steel, or cast-iron cookware. You can also check brands that offer products which are PFAS-free.
Check the Water Supply
The PFAS from the manufacturing or industrial processes can accumulate in the water supplies. This is true for people who live near the wastewater treatment plants, industrial sites, and military or fire-training centers.
Unfortunately, there might not be an easy way to know if the drinking water in your community is contaminated with PFAS. This is because the EPA does not require the municipalities to notify the people with regards to these chemicals. But if you are concerned about this, you can ask your water supplier.
In cases when the homeowners found that the PFAS chemical levels are high, they have taken action and invest in water filters. Some of the filters worth investing are the Berkey Water Filters. To upgrade your family’s protection, go ahead and check the Berkey Water Filter for your home now.
In sum, the study conducted by the Environmental Working Group and the Northeastern University must not be neglected and must be given importance by authorities and every American. Indeed, the presence of PFAS in the water can pose adverse health effects. This can affect people of all ages and gender.
As such, homeowners and authorities must work hand-in-hand in combating the problem. There are easy yet effective steps you can do at home to minimize the effects of PFAS. Make sure to remember the tips included above and share the news with your loved ones now.