By Megan Redshaw
On Tuesday, the Guardian released the results of a nine-month investigation conducted in conjunction with Consumer Reports (CR) that found alarming levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and chemicals from plastic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water samples in the US
According to the Guardian, millions of people in the US face serious water quality problems due to contamination, deteriorating infrastructure, and inadequate treatment in water facilities.
As part of the study, CR and the Guardian selected 120 volunteers to provide tap water samples, which were then tested for heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, contaminants and PFAS – a group of compounds found in hundreds of household products that have been associated with learning delays Children cancer and other health problems.
The samples came from water systems that supply more than 19 million people.
Here are four key findings from this report:
- A total of 118 of 120 samples analyzed had PFAS, arsenic or lead levels that exceeded the safety thresholds set by CR scientists and other health experts.
- Almost every sample had measurable levels of PFAS, and more than 35% of the samples contained the potentially toxic "forever chemicals" in amounts above the maximum safety threshold for CR.
- About 8% of the samples contained arsenic in amounts above the maximum recommended by CR.
- A water sample tested in New Britain, Connecticut had a lead concentration of 31.2 ppb – more than double the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level of 15 ppb and 25 ppb higher than the water quality report sent to people who that use water.
In response to the results, EPA spokeswoman Andrea Drinkard said that 93% of the population served by municipal water systems is receiving water that "meets all health-related standards at all times," and that the agency has set standards for more than 90 contaminants . This includes arsenic and lead, but not PFAS.
However, millions of people in the United States drink water that does not meet federal health standards, including limits for dangerous contaminants, according to an analysis of more than 140,000 public water systems published by the Guardian in February.
Forever Chemicals (PFAS) in tap water
The results from CR showed PFAS in 117 out of 120 samples tested from sites across the country. Two CR samples had PFAS scores above the federal recommendation level of 70 ppt, with the highest amount being 80.2 ppt.
PFAS chemicals have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries in the United States since the 1940s, according to the EPA. They can be found in food packaging, commercial household products, dirt and water-repellent materials, non-stick cookware, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning agents, fire-fighting foams, the oil and plastics industry and contaminated drinking water.
PFAS chemicals seep into water from factories, landfills, and other sources. They are often referred to as "forever chemicals" because they can build up in the body and not easily break down in the environment.
A health impact study of PFAS, which was attended by 69,000 people, found a “likely association” between exposure to one type of PFAS chemical and six health problems: high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, and testicular and kidney cancer. Research has also linked PFAS to learning delays in children.
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As reported by The Defender, science suggests links between PFAS exposure and a number of health outcomes, including possible increased risks for cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, liver damage, kidney disease, low birth weight babies, immunosuppression, and ulcerative colitis Pregnancy-induced hypotension.
At least 2,337 communities in 49 states have drinking water known to be contaminated with PFAS. This emerges from a January analysis by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.
Despite indications of widespread contamination and health risks, the EPA has not set an enforceable legal limit for PFAS in drinking water. Only voluntary limits have been set that apply forever to just two chemicals – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – at 70 parts per trillion combined.
Harvard professor of environmental health Philippe Grandjean, citing his research published in Environmental Health in 2013, suggested that the limit for PFOA and PFOS should be only 1 ppt.
Most communities do not test for PFAS, and when they do, only to a limited extent.
Toxic arsenic in tap water
Almost every CR sample tested had measurable levels of arsenic, a common groundwater pollution, including 10 samples with levels between 3 and 10 ppb, according to the Guardian.
CR scientists and environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have stated that the limit should be 3 ppb or less. However, the EPA allows arsenic in drinking water up to 10 ppb to offset the cost to water system operators against reducing health risks.
Research suggests that exposure to minimal concentrations of arsenic may pose long-term health risks. A 2014 study in Environmental Health found that arsenic at 5 ppb or more was associated with decreased IQ in children.
As reported by The Defender in March, arsenic was "the number one substance in the environment that poses the greatest potential threat to human health" in baby food, according to a Congressional report that emerged from a study of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic .
The report states: “Exposure to toxic heavy metals leads to permanent lowering of IQ, lowering of future economic productivity and an increased risk of future criminal and anti-social behavior in children. Toxic heavy metals endanger the child's neurological development and long-term brain function. "
Dangerous lead content in tap water
Concerns about lead in drinking water first made national headlines during the 2015 Flint, Michigan water crisis. Scientists and the EPA agreed that there is no safe level of exposure to lead, although the EPA's action level for lead is set at 15 ppb.
While New Britain's annual customer water quality report found the average lead level was 6 ppb, a sample tested by CR showed lead levels of 31.2 ppb, more than double the EPA action level of 15 ppb.
Lead normally enters drinking water through lead pipes that lead to people's homes or to house plumbing. An estimated 3 to 6 million homes and businesses in the United States still obtain water from older plumbing that contains lead, according to EPA estimates, and an unknown number of homes have heavy metal fittings.
Inorganic arsenic and lead in tap water are known to be neurotoxic and can lead to decreased IQ as well as adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – two conditions that have been steadily climbing for several decades reported The Defender.
According to the Agency's Register of Toxic Substances and Diseases, lead can also lead to reproductive problems, poor bone density, poor kidney function, cognitive decline, and negative effects on every organ system in the body. High exposure can lead to encephalopathy or death.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has not identified a "threshold or safe blood lead level".
Next steps – solve the problem
While people can seek clean drinking water with filters and household filter systems that remove hazardous contaminants, the CR says it shouldn't be up to consumers to fix the problem.
The NRDC has urged the von Biden government and Congress to pass laws requiring the rapid removal and replacement of plumbing lines and to take immediate action to combat PFAS contamination in drinking water.
Obtained from Waking Times