Contaminants of Emerging Concern: PFAS in Your Water

Early in 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency addressed contaminants of emerging concern in drinking water, highlighting the presence of PFAS. The EPA regulates 90 contaminants in drinking water, but not PFAS.

There are over 4,700 known PFA compounds used in a variety of applications. Out of 4,700 known PFA compounds, 29 are found as contaminants of drinking water.

What Are PFAS? 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of toxic, man-made substances that have been in use since the 1940s. PFAS are used for various applications, including coating for non-stick pans, fast food packaging, cosmetics, and shampoos. PFAS are also used in firefighting foam and waterproof fabrics which is why it is often detected in water sources nationwide near current or former military bases and firefighting facilities.

PFAS are non-biodegradable and can remain in the ecosystem for thousands of years. This resistance to decomposition has earned it its nickname, the ‘forever chemical’. PFAS contaminate the water supply through runoffs of rainwater and seeping through soil. PFAS can also be found in wastewater and landfills. If water supplies are not appropriately treated, PFAS can reach consumer households and be ingested through tap water.

Ninety-five percent of people tested by the CDC since 1999 have tested positive for PFAS in their bodies. There have been 2,854 locations in 50 states whose water sources have been identified to contain PFAS. 

Safe Drinking Water Act 

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is tasked with ensuring that American households have access to safe drinking water. To support the efforts of the EPA, amendments are being made to the Safe Drinking Water Act passed in the 1970s.

The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 grants $35 billion to various states, including Native American reserves, to allow repairs in their water systems. This bill also has provisions to enable further research into emerging water contaminants and shed some light on contaminants otherwise neglected in other studies. The revised bill also regulates wastewater and stormwater catchment facilities.

The EPA is also re-proposing the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) to collect updated data on the presence of PFAS in drinking water. Together with the Biden-Harris administration, the EPA will utilize this data to look into the impact of PFAS on consumer health and the environment.

Recently EPA released their PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024. Through a collaborative effort between the government, local tribes, and communities, the EPA aims to address the impact of PFAS in drinking water and what can be done to avoid it. The agency says that their three-year plan includes a plan to hold polluters financially responsible, increase monitoring and data collection and set an aggressive and enforceable limit on PFAS in water. EPA is also proposing to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA.

An environmental lawyer can discuss the details of this provision with anyone looking for clarifications on the amendments. 

Other Contaminants: TCE and 1-4 Dioxane 

PFAS are not the only contaminants of emerging concern. Other toxic substances such as TCE and 1-4 dioxane have made it into water supplies, posing severe health hazards to consumers. 

According to an EWG analysis, 7 million Americans in 27 states have been contaminated with 1-4 dioxane. 1-4 dioxane is a carcinogenic substance that can enter the water system through leaks in hazardous waste sites and manufacturing plants. Due to its widespread use in cosmetics, detergents, and household cleaners, 1-4 dioxane can easily contaminate water sources when left untreated.

TCE (Trichloroethylene) is a substance used in wood finishes and paint removers. When combined with other substances, it can be used to create different chemicals. When TCE is dumped on the ground in landfills, it can pollute drinking water sources. In some cases, TCE can enter the water source by polluting nearby streams and wells. TCE stays in the body for up to a week after exposure, and long-term exposure to TCE can lead to liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and kidney cancer.

Anyone who is affected by the contamination of their water supply can seek the advice of a qualified environmental lawyer. Contact Napoli Shkolnik for a free case evaluation with a skilled lawyer.