More than 83% of U.S. waterways recently sampled in a national survey have been contaminated with “eternal chemicals” linked to cancer, a new analysis has found.
Of 114 rivers and streams assessed across the country, 95 showed detectable levels of these toxic compounds, according to analysis conducted by the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Almost all of these waterways were contaminated with at least one type of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — there are thousands of them — while multiple PFAS compounds were present in most of the samples, the study found.
In some places – such as streams connected to the Potomac River in Maryland, the Lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and the Niagara River in New York – contamination levels were thousands to hundreds of thousands of times higher than what experts have deemed it safe for drinking water, the researchers warn.
“When we started testing waterways for PFAS earlier this year, we knew our country had a significant PFAS problem, but these results confirm that was an understatement,” said Marc Yaggi, CEO of Waterkeeper. Alliance, in a press release.
Known for their presence in kerosene fire-fighting foam and industrial releases, PFAS are also key ingredients in a variety of household products.
True to their “always chemical” epithet, these compounds tend to persist in both the human body and the environment. They have been linked to many diseases, such as thyroid disease, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer.
While the survey was a nationwide effort, fieldwork took place through 113 local Waterkeeper branches, which collected samples in 34 states and the District of Columbia from last May through July.
The groups took a total of 228 samples from 114 rivers and streams in those territories and performed laboratory analyzes for 55 types of PFAS, according to the study. Researchers said they identified 35 of 55 individual PFASs in at least one sampled stream.
The most frequently detected types of PFAS were PFOA and PFOS – the two most notorious types of chemicals forever, for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently tightened its advisory limits. health.
PFOS was detected above the EPA’s interim health advisory level – of 0.02 parts per trillion – at 159 of 228 sampling sites, or 70% of those surveyed.
For reference, 1 part per trillion is approximately equivalent to one droplet in an Olympic swimming pool.
The highest level of PFOS detected was 1,364.7 parts per trillion – in a sample from Piscataway Creek, Maryland taken by the Potomac Riverkeeper Network.
Meanwhile, PFOA was identified above the EPA’s interim health advisory level of 0.004 parts per trillion in 158 of the samples taken, according to the analysis.
The highest concentration of PFOA was 847 parts per trillion – in a sample from Kreutz Creek, Pennsylvania, collected by the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper.
Another notorious type of PFAS, called GenX, was detected in four samples from three waterways: the Saluda River in South Carolina, the Cape Fear River in North Carolina and Tar Creek in Oklahoma, according to the study.
GenX concentrations exceeded the EPA’s health advisory level of 10 parts per trillion in a sample taken from the Cape Fear River, which reached 25.8 parts per trillion, the researchers found.
A fourth common type of PFAS, known as PFBS, was observed at 118 of 228 sampling sites, according to the analysis. PFBS levels exceeded the EPA’s threshold of 2,000 parts per trillion in one sample – 2,083.3 parts per trillion – from Kreutz Creek in Pennsylvania.
Given these findings, the authors demanded that Congress and the EPA “urge urgent action to control and address the persistence of PFAS contamination across the country.”
While experts estimate that nearly 30,000 facilities release PFAS daily into surface waters and wastewater treatment plants, there are no federal limits for these releases, the researchers pointed out.
“PFAS must be replaced in manufacturing processes with safer alternatives,” Bob Bowcock, founder of environmental compliance firm Integrated Resource Management, said in a statement.
“Non-essential uses must cease,” added Bowcock, who provided third-party review for the analysis.
“Industrial releases must be stopped,” he said. “Cleaning up highly contaminated sites should be a priority.”
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