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While Promising ‘Leadership’ on PFAS, EPA Hides Truth on Tap Water Contamination

Secret Data Suggest Pollution 7 Times Worse Than Previously Known, Affecting 110 Million Americans
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(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

WASHINGTON – At a so-called leadership summit today, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said drinking water contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals is a “national priority.” But a new EWG report reveals that the EPA hasn’t even told Americans the true extent of the pollution, which is much worse than previously reported.

EWG’s analysis of unreleased data suggest that tap water supplies for an estimated 110 million Americans are contaminated with fluorinated compounds known as PFAS chemicals. That’s almost seven times more than previous estimates of 16 million people being affected.

Why the difference in numbers? The EPA only required water utilities to report PFAS pollution at levels much higher than the sensitive levels lab tests can detect. When one of the labs that analyzed utilities’ water samples re-examined its data, it found that if the EPA had required a lower, health-protective reporting level, many more water systems would have shown pollution.

“This is data that was paid for by the taxpayers, but the EPA didn’t bother to collect or release it, keeping millions of Americans in the dark about the dangerous chemicals in their drinking water,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., an EWG senior scientist and author of the new report. “How is hiding the truth an example of ‘leadership,’ or making this a ‘national priority’?”

“Given Scott Pruitt’s record of trying to roll back public health protections and going easy on chemical polluters, taking him at his word that he’ll swing into action on PFAS is like believing a 7-year-old who promises to clean up his room after dessert,” Andrews added.

Among the promises Pruitt made at today’s summit was to “initiate steps to evaluate the need” for setting a legal limit for PFAS chemicals under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. He also said the EPA will officially designate PFAS chemicals “hazardous substances,” which could make it easier for the agency to clean up Superfund sites contaminated with the chemicals.

“Like everything Pruitt says and does, this will need to be placed under the microscope,” said Andrews. “We, along with the millions of Americans whose drinking water is polluted with these chemicals, would like nothing more than to see serious efforts from EPA to address this crisis. But we are not holding our breath.”

In the absence of meaningful action from the EPA, states should continue to take the lead on setting legal limits for PFAS chemicals and cleaning up contamination, Andrews said.

EWG also called for the immediate release of a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control, which was suppressed by the EPA, the Department of Defense and the White House. The study recommends a safe level for PFAS chemicals in drinking water that is much lower than the EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory level.

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Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com