More than six million people in the US drink and use water that is contaminated with deadly toxins, a new study reveals.
Life-threatening concentrations of a carcinogenic man-made chemical – normally used to fight fire, insulate pipes, and stain-proof furniture – have been found in public water tanks across America.
The most at-risk states are (in order): California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois.
The Harvard University study, published on Tuesday, warns the figures are likely woeful underestimates, since government data does not account for a third of the country – and therefore omits around 100 million people.
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It comes amid the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, over lead-poisoned water.
The scandal, which dates back to April 2014, sent shockwaves through the nation as many as 12,000 children were exposed to potentially life-threatening chemicals.
But this new study suggests a similar crisis could be much more widespread.
‘For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment,’ said lead author Xindi Hu, a doctoral student at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health.
‘We now have to face the severe consequences.’
The toxins found in the water supply are called polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances. They are commonly known as PFASs.
PFASs have been used over the past 60 years in industrial and commercial products ranging from food wrappers to clothing to pots and pans.
They have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, high cholesterol, and obesity.
The researchers looked at concentrations of six types of PFASs in drinking water supplies, using data from more than 36,000 water samples collected nationwide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2013-2015.
They also looked at industrial sites that manufacture or use PFASs; at military fire training sites and civilian airports where fire-fighting foam containing PFASs is used; and at wastewater treatment plants.
Safety officials have yet to find a way to remove PFASs from wastewater by standard treatment methods so they easily contaminate the public supply.
The sludge that the plants generate – which is frequently used as fertilizer – could also contaminate public water.