The drinking water systems of approximately 19 million people have been contaminated by a class of chemicals known as PFAS, according to a recent report by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University. The study found 610 contaminated sites in 43 states.
PFAS is short for per-or polyfluoroalkyl substances and what makes them great for consumer and building products are their properties that repel water and stains. However, the same properties that make them popular also make them dangerous because they do not break down easily and are not water soluble—meaning they stick around in the environment. There are a number of pathways for human exposure, one of which being the water that we drink. PFAS get into our drinking water through industrial waste from sites where they are created, disposed of, or used. Exposure through water is especially prevalent near military bases, firefighting training stations, and industrial facilities.
However, you do not need to live near one of these sites to have been exposed to PFAS. Because of their persistence in the environment, PFAS are found in drinking water systems and wells across the United States.
The exact health effects of PFAS are not totally understood yet. There are more than 3,000 chemicals in the PFAS family and tracing back health effects is difficult. Two of the worst PFAS chemicals—PFOA and PFOS—have been phased out because studies linked exposure to:
- Testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancers;
- Weakened childhood immunity;
- Low birth weight;
- Endocrine disruption;
- Increased cholesterol; and
- Weight gain in children.
These two PFAS chemicals are no longer in use in the United States but evidence suggests that the chemicals developed to replace them may be just as harmful.
The persistence of PFAS in the environment makes it difficult, but not impossible, to protect yourself. One step you can take is installing a water filtration system to protect you and your family. Check out BuildingClean.org for a FREE database where you can find an American-made water filtration system that works for you.