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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
November 12, 2019

PFAS Water Contamination Examined

JAMA. 2019;322(18):1757. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.17263

A $7 million multistate study launched in September will probe the health effects of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) are funding the study.

The PFAS chemicals have been manufactured in the United States since the 1940s and chemicals persist and accumulate over time in the environment and in humans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The chemicals are used in many products including nonstick cookware, stain- and water-resistant fabrics, and fire-fighting foam. As of July 2019, the Environmental Working Group and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern University have identified 712 sites in 49 states with PFAS contamination. These include public water systems serving at least 19 million people, and unreleased EPA data suggest as many as 110 million may have PFAS-contaminated drinking water. Drinking or ground water at more than 100 military bases across the United States have been found to be contaminated with PFAS likely due to the use of fire-fighting foams containing PFAS, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Some studies have linked PFAS exposure to growth, learning, and behavior deficits in infants and children, reduced fertility in women, hormone and immune system disturbances, elevated cholesterol, and increased risk of cancer, according to the CDC. The National Defense Authorization Acts of 2018 and 2019 approved the CDC-ATSDR study. It will include 7 sites across the country and enroll at least 2000 children and 6000 adults exposed to PFAS in drinking water.

“There is much that is unknown about the health effects of exposures to these chemicals,” said Patrick Breysse, PhD, director of ATSDR and CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health in a statement. The multisite study will help advance the scientific evidence on the human health effects of PFAS, he noted.