The Environmental Protection Agency discovered toxic, cancer-causing “forever chemicals” in water systems across the country.
The Aug. 17 finding comes after the U.S. Geological Survey found in July that perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl chemicals known as PFAS, were found in 45 percent of water taps in the United States.
The EPA’s separate findings are the latest evidence that these controversial chemicals are widespread in the environment.
PFASs are called “forever chemicals” because they build up and accumulate in a person’s body over time instead of breaking down and have been linked to a number of serious illnesses, including cancer and birth defects.
The chemicals are water resistant and do not break down in the environment and can remain in human bodies for years.
The EPA reported that the toxins could affect the drinking water of 26 million people, according to an environmental advocacy organization called the Environmental Working Group which analyzed the latest agency data.
The federal regulator said (pdf) that two of the most dangerous types of forever chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS, were also found at unsafe levels in between 7.8 and 8.5 percent of public water systems.
PFASs are used in hundreds of household items from cleaning supplies to pizza boxes, which broadens the chance of serious health risks, according to the USGS study.
They were developed in the 1940s with the creation of Teflon, a non-stick coating for cookware, and are now used in everything from clothing, plastic products, cosmetics, and stain removers.
Forever Chemicals Contamination Common Nationwide
The EPA said the cities that had the high concentration of these toxic chemicals were Fresno, California, and Dallas, Texas.
Samples from Fresno had 16 parts per trillion of PFOA and 29 parts per trillion of PFOS, which was 4 and 7.25 times more than the EPA’s proposed regulatory limit and 194.3 parts per trillion for PFAS particles.
A sample from Dallas found that PFOA and PFOS were above the EPA’s levels, at 4.7 parts per trillion and 5.1 parts per trillion respectively, with a total PFAS concentration of 53.4 parts per trillion.
The USGS study found no difference in PFAS exposure between samples from private wells, which are not regulated and public supply, which are monitored by the EPA.
The study was based on samples collected from 716 locations across the country over several years and found that, in contrast to in rural areas, residents in urban areas are at higher risk of exposure to PFAS in drinking water.
The chemicals were found in about 70 percent of areas that are either urban or have a known history of PFAS contamination, compared to just 8 percent of rural areas.
PFAS contamination was more common in the Great Plains, Great Lakes, Eastern Seaboard, and in the Central and Southern California regions.
New EPA Rules to Reduce PFAS Risks
Scott Faber, senior vice president of Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group, told The Hill that he was shocked by the test results.
“Millions of people have been drinking dangerously high levels of PFAS all of their lives and are learning about it today,” said Mr. Faber.
Exposure to PFAS can disrupt hormones and liver function, and it has been linked to illnesses including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The chemicals can also reduce birth weight in infants and compromise the health of pregnant women.
Finally, after years of public pressure, the EPA proposed the first-ever national drinking water standards for six PFAS in March.
The new rules would limit them to just 4 parts per trillion, but the new report shows that many water systems in big cities have levels of the chemicals that already exceed that.
The monitoring of public water systems and disclosure when PFAS levels exceed limits will also be required.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration allocated almost $10 billion from the recent infrastructure law to help communities reduce PFAS exposure and other chemical contaminants in the nation’s water supply.
Reuters contributed to this report.