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  • Jordan King

Drinking Water Has Highest Contamination Levels in These Five States

Amap has revealed the five states with the most water systems where drinking water has been registered as above the proposed limit for PFAS—human-made "forever" chemicals.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania have the most highly contaminated drinking water systems, according to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) interactive map.

Newsweek analysis showed there are around 556 in New Jersey, 439 in Massachusetts, 263 in California, 202 in New Hampshire, and 125 in Pennsylvania.

It is important to note that EWG created its map based on the maximum levels listed at a single point in time. In other words, it does not take into account averages or whether a water system is being treated.

The EWG's Deputy Director and Investigations and Senior Scientist, David Andrews, told Newsweek: "What we know—and there's actually been a few different studies looking at potential sources of PFAS contamination and how they may be getting into the water—there's a strong association with urban areas in particular.

"It goes along with industrialization, the use of consumer and industrial products, but, in particular, some of the highest sources of contamination and have been firefighter training facilities or airports. That's because they were required to use a firefighting foam that included high levels of PFAS. So many airports and Department of Defense sites are known to be highly contaminated."

"And then industrial manufacturing facilities—the facilities which can be a direct release into water and air, but also landfilling of materials have led to some very high levels," Andrews added.

"There are many, many industries that have used these chemicals—electroplating facilities, textile mills... These chemicals have kind of become ubiquitous in society. States like New Jersey have a history of significant manufacturing of these chemicals."

The California State Water Resources Control Board told Newsweek: "The proposed maximum containment levels for the six PFAS are well in line with our compliance advisory levels.

"Monitoring for PFAS has been conducted in public water systems since 2019, focused on areas near known or suspected industrial sources of PFAS.

"The state of California instituted non-regulatory compliance levels at that time and has already installed treatment for PFAS ahead of the EPA's [Environmental Protection Agency's] maximum contaminant level."

The spokesperson went on to say that "source control is the ultimate solution for PFAS" by "eliminating it from nonessential uses and at the industrial manufacturers that may be using it."

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it started taking action to protect drinking water by adopting maximum containment levels (MCL) last January.

A spokesperson told Newsweek: "Pennsylvania moved ahead of the EPA's PFAS limits in protecting drinking water and joined a small group of states that set regulatory limits for select PFAS in drinking water. Pennsylvania's regulation was completed 15 months before the final federal drinking water PFAS regulation was published by EPA.

"Additionally, Pennsylvania is already working to revise its regulations to align with the EPA's federal rulemaking in places where our state rule is less stringent. The federal rule includes phased implementation dates to allow states time to do this work.

"After publication of our regulation, DEP traveled around Pennsylvania conducting numerous trainings for water suppliers. We have already trained 650 individuals through approximately 25 training sessions statewide on the specifics of the new rule."

Newsweek has also contacted water regulators for New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

David G. Miller, deputy director of water treatment & supply for the City of Manchester in New Hampshire, told Newsweek the new regulations are a "game changer" for the drinking water industry.

He said: "The sources of PFAS are many. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, PFAS was discovered at high levels in groundwater wells on and near the former Pease Air Force base...likely from firefighting foam discharge over many years.

"In Merrimack, New Hampshire, St. Gobain Performance Plastics was determined to be the source of local groundwater PFAS contamination, resulting from their atmospheric stack discharge. Many affected wells had to be abandoned and replaced with other sources of water. Just these two examples affected many water users...with many, many more examples across the country.

"In five years, all water systems must meet the U.S. EPA MCL for PFAS to provide public health protection at a considerable cost that will be passed along to consumers."

In April, President Joe Biden's administration and the EPA introduced national limits on PFAS—perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances—in drinking water. These human-made chemicals, which persist in the environment, have been linked to serious health conditions such as cancer.

Andrews went on to say that the states where PFAS contamination has long been an issue will "in many ways have a head start" on the recent introduction of the legally enforceable limits nationwide, which water companies have five years to comply with.

"That contamination has been identified a number of years before this regulation passed," he said, "and in many cases, the water systems in those locations of the highest contamination have already taken action or reached settlements with some of the polluters to install filters over the next couple of years."

Andrews used Michigan as one example of where success can be seen, as "one of the states that did the most comprehensive testing across water systems and then undertook a program to set water quality standards, which required wastewater treatment plants to identify sources of contamination" and essentially get them to install filtration.

A spokesperson for the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team told Newsweek: "Michigan is already well ahead of many states regarding PFAS and has established its own drinking water standards—known as maximum contaminant levels—for seven PFAS compounds. This is a testament to Gov. [Gretchen] Whitmer's commitment to ensuring all Michiganders have access to clean, healthy drinking water.

"Michigan will continue to regulate under the State's rules, while working with drinking water systems throughout the state to prepare for these welcomed new federal standards. Based on our head start, Michigan is confident we'll be ready for these much-needed federal standards."

Andrews encouraged people to see if there are test results for drinking water systems in their area.

"And when contamination has been identified in a drinking water system," he said, "people should consider using a home water filter system. It's a very effective way to significantly reduce or eliminate that contamination."

"Even with the standards that passed earlier this spring, it will be many years before more water systems take action to reduce that contamination," he added.


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