PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. They are comprised of approximately 12,000 compounds. They are ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in thousands of consumer and industrial products and are typically used to make products resist water, stains and heat, including household products (like carpeting, curtains, furniture upholstery, waterproof and stain-resistant flooring, etc.), cooking supplies (including cooking utensils and bake ware), clothing, personal care products (like cosmetics, including waterproof mascara) and even food (PFAS appears in processed food packaging for humans and pets) and public drinking water (tap water) that affects an estimated 2 million Americans. PFAS chemicals are usually found in products labeled “stain-proof” and “waterproof”. PFAS chemicals also appear in fire-fighting foam and other industrial products used at airports and military bases across the country, where the chemicals have leached into the groundwater. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment or human body. PFAS chemicals have been linked in scientific and medical studies to a variety of serious health conditions* including cancer (including testicular cancers), kidney disease, heart disease, thyroid problems, reproductive problems, endocrine problems (PFAS has been found to disrupt hormonal functions with some research suggesting that the PFAS chemicals are linked to accelerated ovarian aging, period irregularities and ovarian disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome) and liver problems. Some newer PFAS have been found to accumulate in organs, so in some cases, science simply cannot detect the toxic chemicals when testing for it in blood.
*Please see numerous scientific reports linking PFAS chemicals to adverse health conditions by visiting our “Chemical Watch Blog“. Scroll down to the bottom of any post and type “PFAS” into the search box.
The scientific team looked at publicly available data on industrial facilities, locations where firefighting foams have been used, and sites related to PFAS-containing waste. They identified 57,412 sites of presumptive PFAS contamination throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This included 4,255 wastewater treatment plants, 3,493 current or former military sites, 49,145 industrial facilities, and 519 major airports.
The results of the new scientific study have revealed that PFAS contamination is presumed to appear in tens of thousands of locations across the U.S.–in fact, there are over 50,000 PFAS-contaminated sites throughout the United States. PFAS can be presumed around three types of facilities: (1) fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) discharge sites, (2) certain industrial facilities, and (3) sites related to PFAS-containing waste. While data are incomplete on all three types of presumptive PFAS contamination sites, scientists integrated available geocoded, nationwide data sets into a single map of presumptive contamination sites in the United States, identifying 57,412 sites of presumptive PFAS contamination: 49,145 industrial facilities, 4,255 wastewater treatment plants, 3,493 current or former military sites, and 519 major airports. This conceptual approach allows governments, industries, and communities to rapidly and systematically identify potential exposure sources. (source)
The researchers compiled the data into an interactive map that shows tens of thousands of dots all over the U.S. that represent the presumptive contamination sites. While California has large clusters of contaminated sites around military bases and industrial locations, many contaminated sites are back east, clustered around major cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Boston.
“The scope of PFAS contamination is immense, and communities impacted by this contamination deserve swift regulatory action that stops ongoing and future uses of PFAS while cleaning up already existing contamination.”
-Dr. Phil Brown, Director, Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute and co-author on the scientific research paper (source)
Journal reference: Salvatore, D., et al. Presumptive Contamination: A New Approach to PFAS Contamination Based on Likely Sources, Environmental Science & Technology Letters, October 12, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00502