According to a new study, toxic PFAS may have contaminated approximately 57,412 locations in the U.S.
These locations include certain industrial facilities, as well as waste processing facilities. They also include places where firefighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has been used, such a military base or airport.
The study was published in the journal today. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, Found probable PFAS contamination spots in all 50 states. It is the first time that existing scientific data on PFAS contamination has been used to create a model capable of predicting locations where contamination is likely.
“PFAS contamination at these sites is not just possible, but probable,” Alissa Cordner, senior author on the paper and co-director of the PFAS Project LabEHN was told by, “Testing for PFAS is extremely expensive and requires a lot of time and technical capacity… One of our big goals is to help decision makers prioritize testing and remediation at these locations based on this high likelihood of contamination.”
PFAS don’t break down naturally, so they linger in the environment and human bodies. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to various health problems such as kidney and testicular cancers, liver and thyroid problems and reproductive problems. There is also a decreased effectiveness of vaccines for children and an increased risk of birth defects.
The chemicals were found in drinking waters systems across the U.S., in the body of humans and animals all over the globe, in plants, crops, and even in the soil. in rainwater At levels that are too high to be considered safe for consumption.
Although research on chemicals has increased in recent times, there are no federal testing requirements that provide critical data about the extent, severity, and consequences of PFAS contamination and releases in the U.S.
The new study fills that gap and also provides a means to get a better understanding of the health of these patients. map Presumptive contamination sites. The researchers reviewed 11 existing studies and regulatory records that clearly linked levels PFAS contamination to certain types of facilities. They then referenced national databases to map similar sites across the country.
The researchers compared their model’s results with their existing map to ensure accuracy. known contamination sites Based on published PFAS testing data, the model captured approximately 70% of known contamination sites. The remaining 30% of sites were locations where PFAS have been found by testing at locations where they wouldn’t be expected by the model.
“This model is likely an underestimation of contaminated sites,” Cordner said. “For example, we know that locations where sludge has been applied to farmland, and locations where firefighting foam has been used in training exercises are likely to be contaminated, but there are no federal databases of those sites, so they aren’t included here.”
Mangel of regulations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), established a 2021 plan. road map PFAS regulations will be updated, including the regulation of the chemicals in drinking waters. However, many health advocates and scientists who study these chemicals think the agency is moving too slowly.
In the meantime, some states While regulations have been made for chemicals, this has only resulted in a patchwork.
“There certainly is a need for a federal [drinking water limit] on PFAS that’s protective of public health,” Cordner said. “In the meantime, we would love to see this research used broadly by local, municipal, and state decision makers to prioritize sites for testing and public health interventions.”
PFAS in Pennsylvania
Cordner reported that Pennsylvania had approximately 2,100 suspected PFAS contaminations. This makes Pennsylvania 10th in the country for presumed contaminated locations. Cordner said that California had approximately 7,200 sites.
In contrast, only 10 locations in Pennsylvania show up on the report’s map of known contamination sites.
From 2019-2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), carried out statewide PFAS samples that revealed one out of three drinking systems exceed the EPA’s recommended health thresholds for PFAS.
The DEP has been working Since at least 2017, the state has been setting drinking water limits for PFAS. This process is expected to be completed in 2023.
In the meantime, the EPA’s recommended health thresholds for the two most common and dangerous PFAS, PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid), were lowered substantially earlier this year, putting Pennsylvania’s proposed limits on these chemicals hundreds of times above recommended health thresholds.
“The EPA’s interim health advisory limits are so low, they’re essentially saying almost any amount of exposure to these chemicals is likely to be hazardous to human health,” Cordner said.
She also pointed out that PFOA/PFOS are just two of a group of over 12,000 similar chemicals. She called on regulators not to regulate them individually but instead to regulate them all as a whole.
“We need to stop all non-essential use of these chemicals in industrial processes, commercial products, and firefighting foam to prevent these harmful exposures.”