SAN FRANCISCO – A new report out today finds that drinking water throughout California is contaminated with harmful PFAS chemicals, particularly in already heavily polluted communities. The report is titled “Dirty Water: Toxic ‘Forever’ PFAS Chemical Are Prevalent in the Drinking Water of Environmental Justice Communities.”
Of particular concern is the finding that PFAS pollution is prominent in communities that are overburdened by multiple sources of pollution and by other factors that make them more sensitive to pollution, compounding the impacts to residents’ health and safety.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), along with Community Water Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, and Clean Water Action published the report, using the State’s data sources.
PFAS are a large group of chemicals often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are extremely resistant to breakdown and can build up in humans, animals, and plants. In response to mounting evidence of harm, such as cancer, immune system toxicity, and hormone disruption, scientists and public health experts from around the world are sounding the alarm on this very dangerous group of chemicals. PFAS have been found in the bodies of virtually all people living in the U.S.
“These findings are just the beginning of the problem in California,” said Anna Reade, a staff scientist at NRDC. “The State needs a comprehensive testing program for these hazardous chemicals, a plan to clean up and safely dispose of them, and policies to end use of PFAS whenever possible.”
The full extent of the problem may be much worse. Half of Californians do not have data or information about what’s in their drinking water, especially those in rural communities.
“Monitoring and testing for PFAS is essential to understanding how widespread the pollution is, and for rural communities across the State, a huge data gap still exists”, said Erick Orellana, a Policy Advocate at Community Water Center. “Many of these rural low-income communities face many toxic contaminants in their drinking water, which the State Water Board is seeking to address through their SAFER Program. We need to find out to what extent there is PFAS in rural communities’ drinking water and hold polluters accountable for the contamination they’ve caused.”
California needs to focus on our most vulnerable communities, including better monitoring and immediate support for and access to clean water.
“In a time when California is facing issues with drought and water security it is very important that water quality be at its best,” said Michael Rincon, a policy researcher at Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles. “PFAS is a huge obstacle in guaranteeing access to safe and clean water. PFAS manufacturers need to be held responsible for contamination of local urban water sources as well.”
PFAS are used in a wide variety of consumer and industrial products. Large potential contamination sources in California include industrial facilities, landfills, wastewater treatment plants, airports, oil and gas facilities, and military bases, where firefighting foam containing PFAS was or is used in large quantities in training exercises.
“California needs to honor its commitment to the human right to water and set health protective limits on these toxic chemicals as quickly as possible,” said Andria Ventura, Policy Director of Clean Water Action. “We’re falling behind other states, and our most vulnerable communities are suffering the brunt of that delay.”
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.