Drinking Water Map Shows States With High Contamination Levels

A drinking water map created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) from a collection of national data reveals the concerning number of drinking water systems with levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, exceeding proposed limits across the U.S.

PFAS encompass thousands of man-made chemicals found in everyday items such as nonstick cookware, firefighting foams, grease-resistant food wrappers and water-resistant clothing. PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” because of the long time it takes them to break down, can cause harm in high exposure amounts.

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During the breakdown process, PFAS can seep into the soil and water supply. These chemicals threaten the water supply when products containing them are dumped onto the ground or into lakes and rivers. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced legally enforceable limits for some PFAS compounds, prompting municipalities around the nation to take a closer look at their water treatment systems.

The EWG data, which was current through May 21, shows that many regions of the U.S. still have work to do before their water treatment systems are within legal limits. According to the EWG map, the most widespread PFAS contamination is in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, central Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Florida, although drinking water with PFAS above the new limit by the EPA is present in nearly every U.S. state.

“For all water systems with a detection of PFOS, PFOA or another PFAS, a maximum concentration for each PFAS and a maximum total PFAS concentration is displayed. The maximum levels listed are from a single point in time and do not reflect whether a water system has changed sources or is treating the water to reduce PFAS levels,” EWG said on its website.

Newsweek reached out to EWG by email for comment.

Officials across the nation are quickly realizing the widespread impact of PFAS and working to combat it. Several municipalities have recently considered increasing water bills for various reasons, including in Florida, where city officials are considering the approval of two new water treatment systems to reduce levels of PFAS.

A person fills a glass with tap water in San Anselmo, California, on July 6, 2023. A map by the EWG shows which states have the most widespread PFAS contamination.

In Maine, PFAS contamination was found in wells in Fairfield. The contamination is believed to have come from a fertilizer sludge that was spread across farm fields. Families with impacted wells were urged to stop using the water for all uses as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) installs filter systems in the impacted areas.

The widespread presence of PFAS in water systems is prompting questions about the quality of water treatment plants as well. For example, officials found concerning levels of 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen, in all nine wells in the village of Hempstead, New York. The village’s water system is more than 100 years old, but a new treatment system could take years to complete. Hempstead is one example of local municipalities requesting help from the federal government by seeking funding for the new system.

Uncommon Knowledge Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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