WV Public Broadcasting - Studies Highlight Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water

August 9, 2016

By Glynis Board

Excerpt: A study released this week highlights how 6 million Americans are living with drinking water that’s laced with toxic chemicals. Coupled with that report - another study that shows how those chemicals suppress the immune system - especially among children.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published research in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters that delved into thousands of drinking water samples from across the nation. Researchers looked for certain chemicals - called “perfluorinated” chemicals - which are linked to cancer and other health problems. These are common household chemicals that have been in use for decades in food wrappers, clothing, and on carpets and nonstick pots and pans. Researchers noted where concentrations were highest, and what possible sources of contamination exist.

“We found that water supplies close to industrial production facilities, military fire training areas, airports certified to use firefighting foams that contain perfluorinated chemicals, and wastewater treatment plants were more likely to have detectable levels of perfluorinated chemicals,” said one of the study’s authors, Laurel Schaider, PhD, from the Silent Spring Institute.

Contaminated water supplies were found in 33 states but were most prevalent in 13 states serving 6 million people: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois.

But those numbers might not reflect reality, according to researchers.

In a press release, lead author Xindi Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS said: “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.”

Chemicals were also detectable in Kentucky as well as in Ohio and West Virginia where a decade ago, one of the first known areas of contamination was discovered.

In 2005 it came to light that the chemical company DuPont contaminated water sources in the Ohio Valley with a perfluorinated chemical called PFOA or c8. A lawsuit established a broad medical study of affected residents, which Schaider says paved the way for further science.

“A lot of what we know about the human health effects of PFOA come from the Ohio River Valley and the C8 Study where over 30,000 community members were involved in a health study,” Schaider said, “and the results showed that there were 6 health effects that were linked to their PFOA exposure.”

Highly Fluorinated Chemicals (PFASs)