New Report Shows PFAS Contamination More Widespread, With High Local Numbers

Jan 22, 2020

Today the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, released a national report on PFAS contamination in water supplies. At the top of the list: Brunswick County, North Carolina. WHQR’s Vince Winkel spoke with one of the report’s authors. 

David Andrews is a senior scientist at EWG and coauthored today's report. The results appear to confirm that the number of Americans exposed to PFAS from contaminated water has been underestimated in other studies.

Vince Winkel: “Can you tell me how the study was conducted and were you testing water from the tap in households?”

David Andrews: “Right, so we collected water samples from 44 places in 31 states and the District of Columbia really just across the country, largely from significant metropolitan water systems, but really a range of different systems, including some that had previously reported contamination, including the Wilmington, North Carolina area, as well as Brunswick County, North Carolina, both of which were near the top of our list in terms of the contamination levels.”

Read The EWG Report HERE

VW: “Wilmington came in with the fifth highest test results and Brunswick County across the river here was at the very top. Is this reflective of the current technology that public utilities are using and filtering water from the Cape Fear River?”

DA: “Yes it is. These reports, these results actually aligned with what the utility has been reporting. And I will say that the highest value from Brunswick County was from Belville Elementary School and that sample was collected by a nonprofit group.”

VW: “So the highest level came out of the elementary school?”

DA: “That's correct. And it aligns with what the utility has been reporting, for the most part in terms of that contamination level. And I think it really stands in stark contrast to the results we're seeing across the country in terms of … this is incredibly concerning because these levels are so much higher than we see in any other water system. And it highlights how, our report highlights how this PFAS contamination is nearly impossible to escape or avoid in drinking water. And yet some places have much higher levels than others. And those are places that need urgent action to either provide an alternative source of drinking water or different filtration systems. But ultimately no one should be drinking contaminated water and we think the right and the cost should be borne by the polluters.”

VW:  “Do you know if any of the taps that were tested for this had water that was coming from wells?”

DA: “So all of these water systems that we tested, we focused on public water systems and primarily larger public water systems. We did not intend to test any wells, that's an interesting point in terms of whether Wells have higher or lower contamination. One thing we've seen and know today is that many of the larger surface water systems definitely have contamination issues. But whether or not that extends to wells is something that we didn't specifically investigate here.”

VW: “Were you and your team surprised by the results?”

DA: “The results are shocking in terms of how much contamination there is. This problem extends beyond just PFOA, PFOS, the Teflon – Scotchguard chemicals. It extends beyond GenX, the replacement chemical for PFOA found in the water and people are exposed to really toxic soup of these compounds. And so I think it's shocking even though we know these chemicals have been detected in most Americans, I think it's really, it stands out just how much contamination there is and how widespread so it's nearly impossible to avoid. We had one system actually, that did not have contamination. It was a public drinking water system, but it was pulling from a groundwater well over 700 feet below the surface.”

VW: “Are you aware of any pending legislation in Washington that focuses on this issue? Anything from the EPA?”

DA: “In terms of pending legislation, the House recently passed a bill to designate PFOA and PFAS as hazardous substances’ set a standard for that as well as setting restrictions on discharges to air and water. The National Defense Act passed at the end of last year takes a number of steps in terms of doing more monitoring for these contaminants. But ultimately, North Carolina has done quite a bit of monitoring of the contaminant, the sources of the contamination, being Chemours or in some upstream locations have largely been identified. The next step is really filtering the water, and making these polluters pay for the mess they've created.”

VW: “David Andrews is a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group in Washington. Thanks for joining us today.”

DA:  “My pleasure. Thank you.”