A new report released by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) found potentially dangerous levels of toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in the water supply of several major cities across the U.S., including New Orleans.
The EWG tested 44 sites in 31 states between May and December of 2019. According to the report, New Orleans ranked eighth highest on the list for PFAS contamination in the water supply at 41.8 parts per trillion (ppt). Samples were analyzed by an independent laboratory using a modified version of testing methods used by the Environmental Protection agency.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS – short for perfloroalkyl and polyfuoroalkyl – are considered to be “forever chemicals,” because they do not break down in the environment and build up within the human body and organs. They’re commonly used in nonstick cookware, paint, cleaning products, and various food packaging.
The EWG report states that the most common PFAS compounds are PFOA, formerly used to manufacture DuPont’s Teflon and PFOS, formerly used to create 3M’s Scotchgard. Although those chemicals are no longer used to manufacture these products, they remain in the environment and drinking water. PFOA was found in 30 of the EWG’s 44 samples, and PFOS was found in 34 samples, representing around a quarter of the total PFAS contamination found.
According to Dr. Tasha Stolber, PFAC chemicals can damage the immune system and decrease a body’s response to vaccines. Former National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences toxicologist Linda Birnbaum said in a 2019 interview that PFAS can cause an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
How Much Is Too Much?
Opinions differ on how much PFAS contamination is too much. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued unenforceable advisory limiting PFOS and PFOA to 70 ppt. However, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR – a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) recommends that the minimal risk level for PFOS and PFOA should be seven to 10 times lower than that. The EWG itself recommends keeping contamination below 1 ppt.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
While it can be difficult to completely avoid PFAS chemicals, buying a water filter can help. Reverse osmosis filters are considered to be the most effective at removing PFAS contaminants from drinking water. Drinking bottled water is also an option. However, the ATSDR notes that completely eliminating your exposure to PFAS is unlikely, as contamination remains in the environment.
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo News, Wander No More, Big Easy Magazine, and more. In 2019, she was given the title of “Most Fearless” by The Bayou Brief. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_