A report released on June 8 found that 15 million Americans have toxins in their drinking water.
The Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University in Boston discovered that harmful chemicals known as PFCs are located in water supplies in 27 states, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Sources of pollution include former industrial sites, military bases, and a number of unknown sources. The report identified 47 locations where the source of the contamination of water was known or suspected. Of those, 21 of these were related to military bases and 20 were related to industrial sites.
"It's a much larger number than we thought before," Bill Walker, chief editor of the Environmental Working Group, told the Free Press.
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Professor Philippe Grandjean explained that PFC contamination can weaken people's immune systems if the chemical gets into their blood. He conducted a study in the Faroe Islands among children whose diets were heavy in fish contaminated with these chemicals and found it was more difficult to protect them against diseases with vaccinations.
"Antibody concentrations are just flat," said Grandjean. "They don't respond; the vaccine doesn't take."
Grandjean added that the Environmental Protection Agency was not regulating the chemicals strictly enough.
"The so-called safe drinking water limits are not safe, they are unsafe," he said.
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The EPA says that the safe drinking water limit for water containing PFOS and PFOA, two types of PFCs, is 70 parts per trillion. Grandjean argued that number is 100 times too high.
PFCs also exist in a number of household products, including non-stick pans and carpet protectors. Reuters reports that in February, Dupont, the creator of Teflon, settled 3,500 lawsuits totaling more than $670 million because cancer-causing chemicals ended up in the water supplies of people in Ohio and West Virginia.
The Environmental Working Group noted that the chemicals can also lead to birth defects and other illnesses, WKYC reported. Even the smallest traces of these chemicals are considered dangerous.
U.S. companies have been persuaded to remove these products from their goods, but PFCs are still present in items manufactured in other countries.
"The time has come for us to develop a strategic plan, No. 1, to make sure these compounds are measured in drinking water systems and potable water all over the United States," said Grandjean, according to the Free Press.
"You can filter these compounds out," he added. "We need to aim at eliminating them where this contamination has occurred, not just where we happen to discover them. Because as this study suggests, this may occur much more widely than we are thinking."