The known extent of contamination of American communities with the highly toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS continues to grow at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. As of March 2019, at least 610 locations in 43 states are now known to be affected, including drinking water systems serving an estimated 19 million people.
The latest update of an interactive map by EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, at Northeastern University, documents publicly known PFAS pollution in public water systems and military bases, airports, industrial plants and dumps, and firefighter training sites. The map and Northeastern’s PFAS Contamination Site Tracker are the most comprehensive resources available for tracking PFAS pollution in the U.S.
When the map was last updated, in July 2018, it showed 172 sites in 40 states. However, the data used for this latest update are not directly comparable to last year’s. We are now using more comprehensive data from the federal Safe Drinking Water Information System, which shows PFAS contamination in the tap water supplies of 446 communities. Information about other locations on the map come from the Defense Department and from news reports collected by Northeastern. (Details about our sources and methodology are here.)
PFAS compounds are a family of thousands of chemicals used in a wide array of consumer and industrial applications – nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, grease-resistant food packaging, firefighting foam and many more. The most notorious PFAS compounds are PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard.
PFOA and PFOS were phased out under pressure from the Evironmental Protection Agency, after studies linked them to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems. They have been replaced by PFAS compounds with a slightly different chemical structure, which were not adequately tested for safety before the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration allowed them on the market. PFAS chemicals pollute the blood of virtually all Americans, including newborn babies, and they persist forever in the environment.
Michigan is the state with the most locations on the map, with 192. The state’s PFAS contamination problem is severe,