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Many Americans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water

Immunotoxicity of polyfluoroalkyl/perfluoroalkyl substances seen at current exposure levels

TUESDAY, Aug. 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) — The levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in drinking water exceed government-recommended safety levels for at least six million people in the United States, according to a report published online Aug. 9 in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Cindy Hu, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 36,149 water samples from around the country collected from 2013 to 2015. In addition, they looked at industrial sites that manufacture or use PFASs, and military fire training sites and civilian airports where firefighting foam containing PFASs is used. The researchers also looked at levels of these chemicals in wastewater treatment plants.

Drinking water from 13 states made up 75 percent of the PFASs detected — Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Of the public water systems the researchers studied, 66 had at least one sample that was at or above the EPA’s safety limits. The highest levels of PFASs were found in watersheds near industrial sites, military bases, and wastewater treatment plants.

Another study led by Philippe Grandjean, M.D., Ph.D., an adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard, also assessed PFASs. That study, published online Aug. 9 in Environmental Health Perspectives, included 516 teens from the Faroe Islands, an island country off the coast of Denmark. Adolescents exposed to PFASs had lower than expected levels of antibodies against diphtheria and tetanus, even though they had been vaccinated for these diseases.

“These results are in accordance with previous findings of PFAS immunotoxicity at current exposure levels,” the authors conclude.

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