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    US Drinking Water: Mapping the Crisis of Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’

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    Young dark-haired woman drinking water
    Young dark-haired woman drinking water

    The plight of American drinking water contamination has recently been cast into the spotlight with the release of an alarming study exposing widespread presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their persistent nature.

    Beautiful fitness athlete woman drinking water after work out exercising on sunset evening summer in beach outdoor portrait.
    Beautiful fitness athlete woman drinking water after work out exercising on sunset evening summer in beach outdoor portrait.

    These synthetic chemicals, which have been produced since the 1940s, are not only found in a plethora of household products such as nonstick pans, stain-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foams, but also now, it appears, in the water we drink.

    smiling girl holding drinking water from glass in the morning
    smiling girl holding drinking water from glass in the morning

    This groundbreaking research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, draws on a comprehensive data set from over 12,000 surface water and 33,900 groundwater samples collected globally.

    bicycle rider drinking water
    bicycle rider drinking water

    According to the researchers, a staggering 69 percent of these samples contained PFAS levels above the safety threshold set by Canada, while 6 percent exceeded the European Union’s standard.

    Sportswoman drinking water near white wall
    Sportswoman drinking water near white wall

    The United States has not escaped this environmental predicament. The study identifies several ‘hot spots’ where PFAS concentrations surpass the European Union’s drinking water limit, particularly in New England, the Midwest, and the West Coast.

    drinking
    drinking

    Denis O’Carroll, a professor at the University of New South Wales and study author, elucidates the gravity of the situation: “We’re talking above five percent, and it goes over 50 percent in some cases.”

    Portrait of attractive caucasian smiling woman isolated on white studio shot drinking water
    Portrait of attractive caucasian smiling woman isolated on white studio shot drinking water

    The health implications are significant. PFAS exposure is associated with a plethora of adverse health outcomes including increased cholesterol levels, blood pressure, immune dysfunction, reproductive issues, and a higher risk of certain cancers. These concerns are now being taken seriously at the federal level.

    Woman drinking water
    Woman drinking water

    On April 10, the Biden administration announced the first enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new limits for some of the most toxic PFAS types, with PFOA and PFOS having a limit of 4 parts per trillion and others set at 10 parts per trillion.

    Beautiful young asian woman drinking water in morning
    Beautiful young asian woman drinking water in morning

    “Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan remarked. The new standards aim to protect millions from these harmful chemicals and are a pivotal component of the administration’s broader PFAS Strategic Roadmap.

    Man delivering large bottles with drinking water
    Man delivering large bottles with drinking water

    This move was long-awaited. Previously, the lack of a nationwide standard meant that states set their own limits, leading to a patchwork of regulations across the country.

    Drinking water
    Drinking water

    The findings of the Nature Geoscience study emphasize the urgency of this issue, revealing that PFAS are not isolated incidents but rather a systemic problem affecting water systems across the country. “PFAS contamination has been identified in drinking water in all 50 states,” Dr. Mark Fischer, regional medical director of International SOS, concurs with the widespread nature of this problem.

    Portrait of little girl having drink in domestic environment
    Portrait of little girl having drink in domestic environment

    The administration’s actions are buttressed by substantial funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, dedicating $1 billion to help water systems and private wells address PFAS.

    Young woman drinks a glass of water
    Young woman drinks a glass of water

    This should help to alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with meeting the new standards and underscores the federal commitment to tackling the issue head-on.

    girl drinking water and sitting at wooden tabletop in kitchen at home
    girl drinking water and sitting at wooden tabletop in kitchen at home

    In the backdrop of these developments, communities nationwide may be reevaluating their relationship with water, what flows from their taps, and the invisible chemicals it may carry.

    Woman holding glass of water
    Woman holding glass of water

    For the millions potentially affected, the hope is that this mapping and subsequent regulatory action will pave the way for cleaner, safer drinking water – a resource that should be a basic human right, not a chemical cocktail.

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