The United States is battling a major health crisis – the infiltration of “forever chemicals” into the country's tap water. Despite vigorous attempts by federal agencies to combat this issue, these substances, once extensively utilized in many products, persist in the environment and pollute the drinking water.
What Are The “Forever Chemicals” Substances?
The PFAS or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as “forever chemicals”, have been omnipresent in numerous everyday items since the 1940s. The robust carbon-fluorine bonds of these chemicals make them resistant to degradation, allowing them to persist in the environment and contaminate our water.
PFAS contamination is not a recent issue, and there have been ongoing efforts by regulators and manufacturers to phase out these toxic substances.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found PFAS in 97% of blood samples collected in 1999 and 2000, and recently, the Biden Administration launched an all-encompassing plan to tackle PFAS pollution, involving several federal agencies.
These chemicals are also polluting US's tap water, according to recent studies. That is why some states have initiated restrictions on the substances and proposed to ban their use in products by 2030.
Findings About “Forever Chemicals” on US Tap Water
A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed that these harmful toxins are present in approximately 45% of US tap water. This alarming revelation is based on samples from various sites collected between 2016 and 2021.
The study marked the inaugural government assessment and comparison of PFAS levels in private and public water supplies across the nation and also shows that urban dwellers are at a higher risk of PFAS exposure.
The U.S. Geological Survey study estimates that the probability of tap water being PFAS-free is barely 25% in urban communities, compared to a significantly higher 75% in rural areas.
But how does contamination occur, and what are PFAS's impacts on human health?
How The Water Gets Contaminated By PFAS?
PFAS contamination can occur through various routes. These compounds can be released into water and air from industrial or disposal sites, while the use of firefighting foams at airports and military bases can lead to groundwater pollution.
What Are The Health Impacts Of PFAS Exposure?
Exposure to PFAS poses multiple health risks, including fertility issues, hypertension in pregnant women, developmental disorders in children, certain types of cancer, and a weakened immune system – but, despite extensive research, the full extent of health repercussions from "forever chemicals" remains elusive.
Considering the existence of thousands of PFAS variants with potentially diverse impacts and toxicity levels, the comprehensive health impact is challenging to ascertain. But there already are some tangential developments surrounding the matter that you need to know.
Tangential Developments: Corporate Accountability
Last month, 3M, a major manufacturer of these substances – along with several American water systems –, agreed to a $ 10.3 billion settlement for water pollution claims involving “forever chemicals”.
Two decades ago, 3M pledged to eliminate “forever chemicals” from its production process and recently has committed to cease all PFAS manufacturing by the end of 2025.
Anyway, the pervasive presence and hazardous impact of “forever chemicals” in the US tap water paints a grim picture, and, for now, increased vigilance, ongoing research, and a committed approach towards phasing out these substances offer a ray of hope in tackling this significant public health concern.