In recent years, concerns about water quality have escalated as the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water has gained attention. These human-made chemicals, known for their resistance to heat, water, and oil, have permeated water sources across the United States, posing potential health risks.
Let’s delve into the various sources of PFAS contamination in US drinking water and the implications for public health.
A notable contributor to PFAS contamination in US drinking water stems from industrial discharges. Manufacturing facilities, particularly those engaged in textiles, electronics, and firefighting foam production, emit PFAS into the environment.
In 2018, the EPA approximated that almost 11,000 industrial facilities and municipal wastewater treatment plants unlawfully discharged substantial pollution into nearby water bodies. These substances have the potential to seep into groundwater, ultimately reaching public water supplies.
Firefighting Foam Runoff
TruLaw notes that the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS has become a major contributor to water contamination, especially around military bases and airports. Runoff from training exercises and firefighting incidents introduces PFAS into nearby water bodies, creating a pervasive impact on local drinking water sources.
Recently released data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveils nearly 900 spills or uses of firefighting foam across the U.S. Alarming amounts of these spills have entered local waterways.
Notably, the largest incident involved 805,000 gallons at Melbourne Orlando International Airport in Florida, emphasizing the scale of potential contamination. Thousands of communities have identified PFAS in their water, with confirmed cases at nearly 400 military installations.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that over 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water.
The alarming statistics surrounding PFAS contamination, particularly from firefighting foams, have spurred a wave of AFFF lawsuits. In these legal actions, plaintiffs hold authorities accountable for the widespread contaminations, emphasizing the urgent need to address this pervasive environmental concern.
Landfills and Waste Sites
Landfills and waste disposal sites have become reservoirs of PFAS, with discarded products containing these chemicals contributing to the contamination.
Studies indicate that about 84% of PFAS loading to municipal solid waste landfills, totaling 7.2 metric tons, remains within the waste mass each year. A small fraction, about 5%, escapes through landfill gas (LFG), while 11% is released via leachate.
As time progresses, PFAS gradually seeps into the surrounding soil and groundwater, posing a persistent threat to nearby water supplies. Communities located in proximity to these disposal sites may encounter heightened levels of PFAS in their tap water.
The documented environmental repercussions of PFAS originating from landfills underscore the imperative need for a comprehensive understanding. Effective mitigation strategies are essential for addressing this pervasive issue.
Wastewater Treatment Plants
Wastewater treatment plants are implicated in the distribution of PFAS, as these chemicals may not be adequately removed during the treatment process.
Research from ScienceDirect scrutinized poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the influent, effluent, and biosolids of 38 wastewater treatment plants. The findings revealed the presence of PFAS in all streams at all facilities.
On average, detectable and quantifiable PFAS concentrations were 98 ng/L in the influent and 80 ng/L in the effluent. In biosolids, the average total concentration stood at 160,000 ng/kg on a dry weight basis.
This underscores the widespread occurrence of PFAS in wastewater treatment, emphasizing the pressing need for effective measures to address PFAS contamination in these facilities.
According to the National Water Quality Assessment, agricultural runoff is identified as the primary cause of water quality disruptions in rivers and streams. It holds the third position as a major contributor to lakes and is the second-largest source of impairments to wetlands.
Annually, approximately half a million tons of pesticides are applied to crops across the continental United States. The inclusion of PFAS-containing pesticides and fertilizers in agricultural practices adds to the contamination of water sources.
Rainfall and irrigation can transport these chemicals from fields to nearby rivers and groundwater, impacting both surface water and well water quality.
Common items such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, and water-resistant textiles may harbor PFAS. A comprehensive analysis from ScienceDirect identified 107 PFAS in 15 consumer product categories. The usage of these products has the potential to release PFAS into the environment.
For instance, washing clothes treated with water-resistant coatings could contribute to the presence of PFAS in wastewater, subsequently impacting drinking water sources.
As the awareness of PFAS contamination in US drinking water grows, addressing the diverse sources of these chemicals becomes imperative.
Stricter regulations, improved waste management practices, and technological advancements in water treatment are crucial steps toward mitigating the impact of PFAS on public health.
Communities must advocate for clean water initiatives, and policymakers need to enact measures that prevent further contamination, ensuring a safer and healthier future.