Boston, MA– Drinking water from the tap may not be as safe as we thought, depending on where you live. A report released this week by the non-profit Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University shows an increase in contaminated drinking water across the U.S., including 21 sites in Massachusetts that were found to have significant contamination levels from PFAS chemicals. An interactive map published by EWG allows you to zoom in on your region to see if areas near you are impacted by these toxic fluorinated compounds.

The CDC classifies PFAS toxicity as a public health issue. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are man-made chemicals used to make consumer products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil. In the process of production, some of these chemicals may escape into air, soil, or water. The CDC says more research is needed to understand the impacts of exposure to PFAS, but some studies have linked exposure to PFAS to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

One reason to be concerned about increasing exposure to these chemicals is that PFAS accumulates in the body and remains in the bloodstream for a long time. High levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to weakened childhood immunity, thyroid disease, cancer and other health problems. On potential health effects, the CDC says:

“Some, but not all, studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may:

affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
interfere with the body’s natural hormones
increase cholesterol levels
affect the immune system
increase the risk of cancer”

The latest data shows that PFAS has been detected in the drinking water systems for over 19 million people at 610 locations in 43 states. This range is much broader than previous data from 2018 had shown.

Currently there is no limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for legal levels of PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

Phil Brown, professor of sociology and health sciences at Northeastern University, was quoted in the release by the EWG, saying: “Leaders in many communities and states are doing great work to raise awareness about PFAS and push for cleanup, but this is a national crisis demanding national action. The EPA should act more quickly to evaluate all PFAS chemicals and restrict their use, and polluting industries should be held responsible.”