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Study reveals troubling information about nearly half of all U.S. tap water: 'Millions of people have been drinking [it]'

The study examined over 700 taps and kitchen faucets from homes, schools, and offices.

Tap water chemicals, troubling information about nearly half of all U.S. tap water

Photo Credit: iStock

An extensive study released by the United States Geological Survey revealed that many per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of thousands of "forever chemicals," contaminate nearly half of the nation's drinking water. 

What's happening?

PFAS encompass a large class of persistent chemicals that accumulate in the body over time. The source of these chemicals includes consumer goods such as cosmetics, wrappers, and clothing. 

The study examined over 700 taps and kitchen faucets from homes, schools, and offices, looking for 32 common PFAS. The geographic range of this study included protected lands, residential areas that had no known reports of PFAS exposure, and known PFAS risk zones. 

"Millions of people have been drinking a toxic forever chemical linked to cancer all their lives and are only discovering it today," said Scott Faber, the senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, per The Washington Post.

The results of the study were as expected. Urban areas had a significantly higher risk of contamination than rural tap water, and historically polluted places like New Jersey, the Great Lakes region, and Southern California were some of the worst offenders. 

Why is this important? 

The study supports the concept that PFAS are becoming a persistent threat to human populations. One 2015 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that PFAS are in the blood of more than 95% of all Americans. 

Once the chemicals enter the body, they can cause health risks, including developmental delays in children, some cancers, and reproductive complications. However, more research is needed to concretely link the exposure risk to these effects, per the Environmental Protection Agency.  

What's being done about PFAS? 

Based on data collected in other studies, some researchers caution against extrapolating the data to the entire country because the sample size was relatively small. More research will have to be conducted to determine the pervasiveness of PFAS exposure nationwide. 

However, the data has not deterred progress in the fight to remove PFAS from manufacturing altogether. Industrial conglomerate 3M halted using PFAS in its products and agreed to pay a multibillion dollar settlement for its role in releasing the forever chemicals into waterways. Some states, like Minnesota and Maine, have also moved to block the use of the chemicals in certain products. 

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