Addressing PFAS contamination in rural communities

Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on July 28th, 2023

Recent research from the US Geologic Survey (USGS) found that nearly half of US tap water contains PFAS chemicals. Even though large urban areas face higher risks of contamination, these toxic compounds' presence in water systems and supplies serving small rural communities entail unique risks and challenges.

While not as exposed to the industrial and commercial 'forever chemical' sources that urban areas have to contend with, PFAS' environmental resilience allows them to be carried off through waterways and reach downstream rural communities. However, despite serving around 1/3 of all US residents, small water utilities and private wells haven't been a priority for most federal and state PFAS testing efforts.

Concerningly, the lack of information on drinking water quality in these communities means that residents may not be fully aware of the risks and may be more susceptible to PFAS' enduring health effects. The CDC/ATSDR has linked chronic PFAS exposure to higher risks of:

  • Kidney and testicular cancer
  • Liver enzymes dysregulations
  • Lower birth weights
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
  • Low vaccine efficiency in children

Notably, the authors of the USGS study estimated that the likelihood of PFAS failing to be observed in tap water ranges over 75% in rural areas compared to only 25% in urban settings, in no small part due to reduced testing, research, and monitoring efforts in small rural communities.

Besides contaminated water, farming communities also contend with 'forever chemicals' in agricultural fertilizers obtained from the nutrient-rich biosolids in wastewater sludge. Unfortunately, PFAS' environmental persistence and ability to magnify up the food chain presents challenges for many agricultural and animal farming businesses, with these compounds being detected in:

  • Crop, fruit, and plants
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Meat and meat products
  • Fish and seafood

Removing and eliminating 'forever chemicals' requires structural and technological upgrades to public water facilities that smaller communities may not be able to afford. The yearly costs per household for removing PFAS from drinking water are disproportionately higher in communities with less than 100 residents ($10,090 - $11,150) than in large population centers with over a million inhabitants ($80 - $105).

Faced with the exorbitant costs of PFAS cleanup, small rural communities and the public water systems serving them have a few options to attenuate expenses. One way would be accessing a portion of the $5 billion set aside through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address PFAS remediation in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Another option would be joining the lawsuit initiated by the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) against the companies that manufactured PFAS and released them in public waterways for years. Recently, Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva reached a settlement of $1.185 billion, followed shortly by an even more substantial settlement from the 3M chemical corporation, totaling $12.5 billion.

We can help you join the PFAS water contamination class-action lawsuit

For over three decades, the Environmental Litigation Group's diligent attorneys have leveraged their experience and legal acumen to represent toxic exposure victims. We provide free case evaluations and can help public water systems become a part of the PFAS water contamination lawsuit to retrieve compensation for PFAS cleanup and infrastructural improvements.

Once we establish your eligibility, we will begin working on your case to secure the financial restitutions required to address PFAS contamination in your community. If you believe you qualify, we encourage you to reach out to us.