At least 45% of the nation’s tap water is estimated to have one or more types of the chemicals known as per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. There are more than 12,000 types of PFAS, not all of which can be detected with current tests; the USGS study tested for the presence of 32 types.
This USGS research marks the first time anyone has tested for and compared PFAS in tap water from both private and government-regulated public water supplies on a broad scale throughout the country. Those data were used to model and estimate PFAS contamination nationwide. This USGS study can help members of the public to understand their risk of exposure and inform policy and management decisions regarding testing and treatment options for drinking water.
PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of common applications, from the linings of fast-food boxes and non-stick cookware to fire-fighting foams and other purposes. High concentrations of some PFAS may lead to adverse health risks in people, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Research is still ongoing to better understand the potential health effects of PFAS exposure over long periods of time. Because they break down very slowly, PFAS are commonly called “forever chemicals.” Their persistence in the environment and prevalence across the country make them a unique water-quality concern.