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A recent study found more toxic chemicals in drinking water across the United States than was previously thought. Due to financial and governmental limitations imposed on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chemicals are found at a greater rate than most EPA tests can determine.
The most concerning chemicals found in drinking water is pollution known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals, which are difficult for the EPA to detect, are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not easily break down.
Such chemicals as PFAS have been linked to a host of issues due to their toxicity. In fact, PFAS is linked to cancer, kidney disease, birth defects, and other serious health concerns.
Meanwhile, the EPA has been restricted in what it can and cannot test, due to the previous administration’s insistence on reducing funding, and increasing support for chemical companies. According to Kyla Bennett, policy director at the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, “The EPA is doing the bare minimum it can and that’s putting people’s health at risk.”
Black Americans at greater risk of toxic drinking water, EPA tests not sufficient
Testing conducted by the EPA is not broad-based, and may miss such chemicals as PFAS in drinking water. If the EPA is not able to determine toxicity, people face serious health risks by simply drinking tap water.
Black Americans are at even greater risk of consuming contaminated water, such as the Flint water crisis, which has affected thousands of people in the mostly-Black community of Flint, Michigan. More Black families live in areas with concentrated environmental concerns, such as lowlands that face flood and hurricane risks.
Black families are also more likely to live in areas populated by chemical factories and other pollution-producing organizations. The environmental health risks faced in Black communities are higher than those in mostly-White areas.
Meanwhile, drinking water poses a huge threat to all people. One test of a representative sample done by the Guardian newspaper found higher levels of PFAS in drinking water than the EPA had been able to detect.
Researchers call on EPA to do more
While the EPA does not have limits placed on PFAS in drinking water, researchers and health scientists are concerned. According to Graham Peaslee, a University of Notre Dame researcher, “We’re looking for and studying less than 1% of PFAS so what the heck is that other 99%? I’ve never seen a good PFAS, so they’re all going to have some toxicity.”
Many are calling on the EPA to utilize other, more comprehensive tests for PFAS. One such test is the “total organic fluorine” (TOF) which can more accurately detect low levels of PFAS. The European Union is considering a switch to TOF for detecting PFAS in water in Europe.
Meanwhile, the EPA claims its tests are accurate enough to detect PFAS. In fact, the EPA has no plans to change their testing strategy, despite the outcry for better information.
According to a statement from the EPA, the agency “continues to conduct research and monitor advances in analytical methodologies … that may improve our ability to measure more PFAS.”