Black and Latino communities, disproportionately affected by drinking water with PFAS

Treven Pyles

By Treven Pyles

Posted on August 09th, 2023

Since most Black and Latino communities live close to pollution hotspots such as industrial sites, airports, landfills, military bases, and wastewater treatment plants, their drinking water is more likely to contain high PFAS concentrations, which poses a major health threat to these vulnerable people in the long run.

A recent study from Environmental Science & Technology found that people who live in communities with higher proportions of Black and Latino residents are more likely to be exposed to harmful PFAS levels in their water supplies than people living in other communities. The researchers used monitoring data from 7,873 community water systems across the country in the 18 states in which such data is available, namely:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

The study revealed that PFAS contamination had a positive association with the number of PFAS sources and people of color served by a water system. Each additional industrial facility, airport, and military fire training area in a community water system's watershed was associated with a 10% to 108% increase in PFOA and a 20% to 34% increase in PFOS in drinking water. According to the researchers, roughly 25% of the population in the 18 states was served by community water systems with PFAS levels above 5 ng/L. Considering this estimate, if the EPA's new proposed level of 4 ng/L becomes effective, over a quarter of Americans are likely to be considered exposed to dangerous PFAS levels from drinking water.

"Our work suggests that the sociodemographic groups that are often stressed by other factors, including marginalization, racism, and poverty, are also more highly exposed to PFAS in drinking water," said first author Jahred Liddie, a Ph.D. student in population health sciences at Harvard Chan School. "Environmental justice is a major emphasis of the current administration and this work shows it should be considered in the upcoming regulations for PFAS in drinking water."

In the spring of this year, the EPA proposed the first national drinking water regulation for six PFAS, which it estimates will finalize by the end of 2023. The regulation would set maximum contaminant levels of PFOA and PFOS at 4 ppt and limit the other four. These are the other four chemicals the agency would regulate in drinking water:

  • PFNA
  • GenX Chemicals
  • PFHxS
  • PFBS

The study is the first one to discover sociodemographic disparities in drinking water PFAS exposure and to statistically link sources such as airports and landfills to PFAS concentrations in community water systems over wide geographic scales. Because of their persistence in the environment and characteristic fluorine-carbon backbone, PFAS are widely used for their stain-resistant and water-resistant properties. Exposure to these highly toxic chemicals has been associated with many adverse health outcomes, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

If your drinking water source contains PFAS, your community might be eligible to join the PFAS water contamination lawsuit, by virtue of which you can receive the money necessary for water testing, remediation, and treatment. With over 30 years of experience in handling toxic exposure cases, our attorneys will gladly offer you a free case evaluation to determine whether you are entitled to financial compensation.

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