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EPA tests underestimate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water, study says

EPA tests underestimate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water, study says
New analysis shows EPA tests underestimate the amount of "forever chemicals" in drinking water, according to The Guardian. File Photo by Mike Vande Ven Jr/Shutterstock

July 6 (UPI) -- A new analysis of drinking water in the United States found Environmental Protection Agency tests are missing large levels of "forever chemicals" exposing millions to health risks, according to The Guardian.

The Guardian analysis found the EPA's testing is too limited in scope and undercounts PFAS pollutants.

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"The EPA is doing the bare minimum it can and that's putting people's health at risk," said Kyla Bennett, policy director at the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

PFAS are widely used, long-lasting chemicals used to repel water and stains, that break down slowly over time. These "forever chemicals," used since the 1950s, are found in water, air, fish and soil and are often linked to cancer, birth defects and other serious health issues. Thousands of "forever chemicals" are used everyday in household items, such as shampoo, cosmetics, non-stick cookware, food packaging, upholstery and clothing, according to the EPA.

RELATED EPA: 'Forever chemicals' harm health at lower levels than previously thought

The Guardian analyzed water samples from nine locations around the country and found seven of its samples showed higher levels of PFAS than what was detected using the EPA's testing method. The areas where water was tested include Tucson, Ariz.; Westfield, Mass.; Portsmouth, N.H.; Oscoda, Mich.; Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Bethesda, Md.; Leland, N.C.; Madison, Wis.; and Gustavus, Alaska.

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The Guardian used a "total organic fluorine," or TOF, test to measure its water samples and compared the results with the EPA 537 method. The levels showed a large disparity in seven of the locations, including Portsmouth, N.H., where levels were 10 parts per trillion in the EPA test and 164ppt in the TOF test. The samples taken in Alaska and Michigan did not show a discrepancy.

Critics argue the EPA 537 method does not provide an accurate picture of chemicals in water to regulate industry output accordingly.

RELATED Study: 'Forever chemicals' linked to increased risk for high blood pressure

"Industry has had a 70-year head start and we're never going to catch up," said Graham Peaslee, a University of Notre Dame researcher.

The EPA has argued that PFAS that can't be detected are safe, according to The Guardian.

"There are so many PFAS that we don't know anything about, and if we don't know anything about them, how do we know they aren't hurting us?" Bennett asked.

RELATED EPA unveils plan to regulate, restrict toxic 'forever chemicals'

Last month, the EPA updated its health advisories warning "forever chemicals" can harm health at lower levels than previously thought. The updated advisory levels are based on new science and lifetime exposure.

The EPA has issued a statement to The Guardian and said it "continues to conduct research and monitor advances in analytical methodologies ... that may improve our ability to measure more PFAS."

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