Water of Millions Tainted With Possible Carcinogens: Study

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By Rachel Leven

Aug. 9 — The drinking water of at least 6 million people is tainted with levels of potentially carcinogenic substances that exceed Environmental Protection Agency recommendations, according to a Harvard University study released Aug. 9.

The study detected the highest levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in drinking water supplies near industrial sites, military bases and wastewater treatment plants, and is the first to link contamination to these facilities. PFASs have been used in a range of industrial and commercial products that includes pots and pans, and even though some of these chemicals have been discontinued, they persist in people and wildlife, it said.

“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment, and we now have to face the severe consequences,” lead author Xindi Hu, a Harvard doctoral student, said in a news release. “In addition, the actual number of people exposed may be even higher than our study found, because government data for levels of these compounds in drinking water is lacking for almost a third of the U.S. population—about 100 million people.”

The study comes months after the EPA released lifetime health advisories of 0.07 microgram per liter for individual or combined exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in drinking water. This and a second study offer more insight into what contributes to PFASs contamination and its impacts on human health.

The study, “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants,” was published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Health Study

Also on Aug. 9, a separate Harvard University study was published that indicated that PFASs exposure may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in children.

“The EPA advisory limit for PFOA and PFOS is much too high to protect against toxic effects on the immune system,” Philippe Grandjean, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. “And the available water data only reveals the tip of an iceberg of contaminated drinking water.”

That study, “Serum Vaccine Antibody Concentrations in Adolescents Exposed to Perfluorinated Compounds,” was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The study “Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants” is available at http://src.bna.com/hzP.

The study “Serum Vaccine Antibody Concentrations in Adolescents Exposed to Perfluorinated Compounds” is available at http://src.bna.com/hzQ.

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