Water tests conducted as part of the U.S. EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) finds that 44 million people have per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their drinking water, according to a press release from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The test results were collected form fewer than one-third of the nation’s drinking water supplies. UCMR5 required water utilities across the nation to test drinking water for 29 different PFAS compounds. Additional tests will take place over the next two years.
This second round of 2023 data released in October found PFAS in an additional 423 drinking water systems serving more than 18 million people. Combined with the data released in the first round of testing, UCMR5 data indicates 854 systems supply drinking water contaminated with PFAS to over 44 million people.
The data released by EPA only tells part of the story, according to EWG: the full scale of PFAS contamination may be much more widespread. A 2020 study published by scientists at EWG estimated more than 200 million Americans are served by water systems with PFOA or PFOS in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 part per trillion, or ppt, or higher. The EPA testing reports PFAS detections at 4 ppt for these chemicals.
“New research published each week highlights the detrimental effects of PFAS on human health and the environment, and underscores the need for immediate action to combat contamination,” said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at EWG. “Unchecked use and releases of PFAS have had devastating consequences on a global scale, affecting people, drinking water, food, fish and wildlife.”
EWG’s interactive PFAS contamination map currently shows public and private water systems known to be contaminated with toxic PFAS at thousands of locations in 50 states, the District of Columbia and two territories. The true scale of PFAS contamination is expected to be much greater, and EWG said that it will be updating the map with more sites soon.
EPA plans to release additional data on PFAS in drinking water as more systems conduct tests between now and 2025. The agency collects data through the UCMR for contaminants suspected to be in drinking water and for which Safe Drinking Water Act, or SDWA, health-based standards do not exist.
Activated carbon filters can effectively reduce PFAS in drinking water. EWG said that the best way to filter PFAS from a home’s drinking water is with an in-home reverse osmosis filter.