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Can We Actually Drink Our Water?

By: Karen Zhu

Something is contaminating our water. PFAS, or “forever chemicals” is estimated to be in at least 45% of the nation's drinking water. Researchers also found that this may be more common in various areas in California, the Great Plains, Great Lakes, and Eastern Seaboard regions.

Urban, or Rural?

Study authors have found an 8% possibility of contamination in rural areas, while the probability skyrocketed to more than 70% in urban areas. Research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the study lead’s author Kelly Smalling said that town and city residents are more likely to be exposed to PFAS, since there are more people using items that contain these chemicals. They include nonstick cookware, dental floss, fast food boxes, etc. There’s also much more industrial activity, military installations, and even wastewater treatment plants.

Health Disadvantages

Known as “forever chemicals” since they don’t degrade naturally in the environment, PFAS have been used since the 1940s and are almost everywhere. Although their use has mostly been phased out in the U.S., their prevalence in the environment remains a concern. Exposure to high levels of some PFAS has been linked to many health affects such as decreased fertility, increased risk of high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and liver and immune-system damage.

Problem Solved?

And in March, the EPA proposed federal limits on two common types of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS — in drinking water to the lowest levels that tests can detect, and said it wanted to regulate four more types. The agency said the rule would protect thousands of lives, prevent serious illness, and reduce exposure for nearly 100 million Americans. But still, the U.S. Geological Survey study found that tap water levels of the two chemicals in both private and public supply exceeded the federal limits.


Jennifer Clary, water policy and legislative analyst for the nonprofit Clean Water Action, said that the study’s findings were “disappointing, but not really surprising… It just lets you know what a problem it is when you use chemicals that you don’t really understand the outcome of, like what happens when they get out into the environment.”

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