These are the cities and counties with the highest levels of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water — after manufacturing giant 3M agreed to settle a series of landmark lawsuits alleging it contributed to the problem.
Per- and polyFluorinated Substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals manufactured since the 1940s and can be found in foam used by firefighters, cookware, carpets, textiles, and even children’s toys.
3M manufactured the chemicals in several common items, such as plastic water bottles and tape.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits PFAS to 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) for drinking water, a small amount due to their links to cancer, infertility, obesity, and autism.
Yet a 2020 report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that some United States cities and counties have thousands of times more PFAS in their drinking water. Brunswick County, in North Carolina, topped the list, with 185.9 ppt, followed by Quad Cities, Iowa, and Miami, Florida.
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Environmental Working Group (EWG) data from 2020 ranked Brunswick County, North Carolina, as the top region in the US with PFAS in drinking water
PFAS have been dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down after being released into the environment.
The EPA has called PFAS an ‘urgent public health and environmental issue.’
In 2020, EWG released data ranking the cities and counties with the highest levels of PFAS in tap water. The metric measures the prevalence of the particle within a swab sample.
According to 2017 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top cause of death in North Carolina is cancer. PFAS have long been linked to increased risk of several forms of cancer, including kidney and testicular cancer.
Brunswick County is followed closely Quad Cities, a region of five cities across Iowa and Illinois.
The data also included rates at the city level.
Top cities listed include Miami, Wilmington, North Carolina, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Charleston, South Carolina.
PFAS contamination is often detected in water near manufacturing facilities, as well as at military bases and firefighting training facilities where flame-retardant foam is used.
3M, for example, has used the chemicals in firefighter foam since the 1960s.
A 2014 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study said firefighters are nine percent more likely to get cancer than the general US population and 14 percent more likely to die from cancer.
Last June, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that the occupation of being a firefighter was itself ‘carcinogenic to humans.’
EWG released a database that tracks PFAS exposure in drinking water, at military sites, and other sites
PFAS is commonly found in tap water across the United States, as well as household products like cookware, carpets, textiles, and children’s toys
Studies suggest that more than 97 percent of Americans have PFAS chemicals circulating in their blood.
A report published in earlier this month in the Annals of Global Health found that 3M and chemical manufacturer DuPont were first alerted to health risks of forever chemicals in 1961 but failed to raise alarm until the 1990s.
These risks include liver enlargement, poisonings, and birth defects in children, as well as many others.
A government-funded study from this month in the journal Environmental Health perspectives, for example, found that children who were exposed to high levels of PFAS in the womb were more likely to be overweight or obese.
This builds on past research that has suggested that PFAS contributes to weight gain by disrupting hormone regulation.
Additionally, a 2021 study from the University of Texas found that children exposed to PFAS in the womb were more likely to develop autism.
3M has said that ‘PFAS are safely made and used in many modern products’ and that their decision to end the manufacturing of the chemicals by the end of 2025 is due to increased regulations regarding their presence in the environment.
Last month, Minnesota, which did not make EWG’s list, announced plans to ban the chemicals from everyday household products by 2025.
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