Our drinking water should take priority

Tap water across the United States is contaminated to a much higher degree than previously known by toxic chemicals, according to a new report released on Jan. 22 by the Environmental Working Group.

“Forever chemicals,” also known as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are resistant to breaking down and may affect hundreds of millions of Americans. Some of the chemicals classified as PFAS are known to cause cancer, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

More than 100,000 cancer cases in recent times may have been caused by contaminants in tap water, according to the study.

“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report.

The group took tap water samples from 44 places in 31 states, including Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, northern New Jersey and New York City suburbs. And the highest rate of contamination was found — in Brunswick County on the N.C. coast. Water there was found to have 185.9 parts per trillion, far over the EPA’s current limit of 70 PPT.

Only one location, in Mississippi, had no traceable amounts of the chemicals, and two others had less than one part per trillion, the rate recommended by the Environmental Working Group.

The EPA has known about the contamination for 19 years, Reuters reported. In 2018, the White House and the EPA tried to suppress a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the EPA’s 70 PPT threshold, closer to the EWG’s limit.

Coincidentally, the U.S. House passed the PFAS Action Act this month by a 247-159 vote, requiring the EPA to designate all PFAS as hazardous substances within a year. Reps. Virginia Foxx and Ted Budd voted against the measure. Considering the higher rates of contamination found, perhaps they’d like to reconsider.

And perhaps they’d like to urge their colleagues in the Senate to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take this one up.

From 1950 through the 1980s, tainted tap water at Camp Lejeune led to birth defects and childhood cancers among the families of marines stationed there, affecting at least 100 children. Untold others who served at the base, or who lived there while a family member served, may have incurred other ailments related to the presence of as many as 70 dangerous chemicals in the tap water. Traces of two such chemicals, one coming from dry cleaning solvent, the other from a degreaser, were present at levels of up to 3,400 times beyond acceptable by government standards.

For decades, the government, both military and civilian, either stonewalled or ignored health complaints. We can’t allow such an obscenity to happen again.

Water is an essential ingredient for good health and life. In the richest country in the history of the world, its cleanliness should be sacred. President Trump regularly boasts that the United States has the cleanest air and water in the world — a claim that is, unfortunately, untrue. Several other developed nations beat us on both fronts.

But it should be true. We urge state officials, as well as our senators and representatives, to look into the matter with all due diligence and sobriety. Our state’s health and our nation’s health depend on it.

— Winston-Salem Journal