Water’s Silent Scourge: Forever Chemicals (PFAS) in 45% of U.S. Tap Water

A recent study conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed a sobering fact: nearly half of the tap water in the United States contains at least one chemical that could potentially be harmful to human health.

This pioneering research stands out because it is the first of its kind to analyze both public and private tap water taken directly from the kitchen faucets of households across the nation. The culprits in question are a group of chemicals known as PFAS, and the results indicate their widespread presence, including in the tap water of southwest Ohio.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to numerous health concerns, making their presence in our drinking water a potential risk that should not be taken lightly. The USGS study’s results mark a crucial step in shedding light on this significant public health issue and underscore the urgency for action at both local and national levels.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use for several decades due to their resistance to heat, water, and oil. Over 4,700 PFAS exist, and due to their extensive use in various applications, they have become a ubiquitous presence in our environment. A recent study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) revealed that these compounds could be present in nearly half of the tap water supplies across the United States, whether they are privately owned wells or government-regulated public supplies.

The Threat of PFAS

PFAS, due to their resistance to degradation, have the potential to accumulate in the environment and human bodies, leading to a range of possible health risks. Extensive studies have linked exposure to high concentrations of certain PFAS to numerous health issues. These include increased cholesterol levels, which could potentially lead to heart disease, decreased vaccine response in children, and increased risk of certain types of cancer such as kidney and testicular cancers.

A recent report from the US Geological Survey (USGS) shed light on how pervasive these chemicals truly are. PFAS were found to be present in nearly half of the tap water supplies across the United States, encompassing both privately owned wells and government-regulated public supplies. This makes PFAS contamination not just an issue for select regions, but a nationwide concern requiring urgent attention.

Further underscoring their potential danger, the most frequently detected compounds in the USGS study were PFBS, PFHxS, and PFOA. These are among the PFAS compounds associated with significant health risks. The interim health advisories released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2022 for PFOS and PFOA were exceeded in every sample where they were detected in the USGS study. This is especially alarming, given that PFOA and PFOS have been associated with harmful effects on the liver, thyroid function, and even fetal development.

Moreover, exposure to these chemicals isn’t limited to a single source. Instead, PFAS can infiltrate our lives through multiple pathways. In urban and industrial areas, for instance, PFAS contamination is more prevalent due to the proximity of PFAS sources, such as industry or waste sites. Even in residential and rural areas with no known PFAS sources, these substances can still be detected. In essence, almost no area is completely free of PFAS risk.

The Solution: AirSCWO Technology

While the issue is daunting, there is hope in the form of emerging technologies designed to tackle PFAS contamination. One such promising solution is the AirSCWO system developed by 374Water. AirSCWO stands for Air Supercritical Water Oxidation, a process that can destroy PFAS efficiently.

The AirSCWO system utilizes supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) – a process that occurs when water is heated to over 374 degrees Celsius and pressurized above 221 atmospheres. Under these conditions, water transforms into a supercritical fluid, possessing unique properties that allow it to act as an effective solvent for PFAS.

The beauty of the AirSCWO system is in its versatility and effectiveness. This system can be used to treat PFAS contamination at scale, in various settings like municipal wastewater, industrial, and military waste. Its design allows for scalability and modularity, making it an ideal choice for various applications. In addition, studies have shown that the system can destroy over 99% of PFAS, making it a highly effective solution for PFAS contamination.

Crucially, while it operates at extreme temperatures and pressures, the AirSCWO system is safe. The entire process is enclosed, preventing the release of any hazardous materials into the environment. Moreover, the system is energy efficient, which can significantly reduce the cost of treating PFAS-contaminated water.

Conclusion

The challenge of PFAS contamination is significant, and the risks they pose to human health make addressing this issue urgent. The widespread presence of PFAS in our tap water supplies, as revealed by the USGS research, is a stark reminder of this urgency. However, thanks to innovative solutions like the AirSCWO system from 374Water, there is a viable path forward. By effectively destroying PFAS, this technology offers a way to tackle the issue of these ‘forever chemicals’, safeguarding our health and environment for the future.