CR calls for stronger drinking water standards to protect public health and offers advice on how to test and treat your own water
YONKERS, NY – A joint investigation by Consumer Reports and the Guardian US news organization of the nation’s drinking water found widespread contamination with PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances also known as ‘forever chemicals’), lead, and arsenic, including a significant number of samples that exceeded levels considered safe by CR and other health experts. The full report can be found at CR.org/watertest
Consumer Reports is calling on Congress and the Biden Administration to establish stronger drinking water standards to protect Americans from being exposed to contaminants that could put them at higher risk for serious health problems. To support federal action on clean water, go to CR.org/PFASpetition
“CR’s research shows that the U.S. continues to face serious challenges to ensure everyone has access to clean drinking water,” said James E. Rogers, PhD, director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports. “Far too many Americans are exposed to hazardous levels of PFAS and heavy metals in the drinking water they rely on every day. The technology exists to remove dangerous contaminants from water, but these filtration systems are not being used uniformly in communities across the country.”
Consumer Reports and the Guardian set out to test tap water in the U.S. and determine the levels of PFAS and certain heavy metals from a representative mix of municipal water systems across the country. CR collected unfiltered tap water samples from 120 volunteers around the U.S. and tested them for PFAS, arsenic, lead, and other contaminants and compared measured levels to regulatory and health based limits, to assess the potential health risks for consumers.
Concerning PFAS contamination found in more than one-third of samples tested
CR found measurable levels of PFAS in 117 of the 120 samples tested. More than 35 percent of the samples exceeded 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for total PFAS, a safety threshold that CR scientists and other health experts think should be the maximum total amount allowed in drinking water. More than one-quarter of all samples exceeded 5 ppt for a single PFAS, the maximum amount CR says should be allowed for one PFAS chemical.
There are currently no enforceable limits set by the EPA for PFAS in drinking water. Instead, the EPA has established a voluntary combined limit of 70 ppt for two PFAS compounds (PFOA and PFOS). Two samples tested by CR exceeded 70 ppt for total PFAS: one in Pittsboro, NC (80.2 ppt), and another in Alexandria, VA (73 ppt).
Manufacturers use PFAS to make stain-resistant fabrics and clothing, nonstick cookware, and hundreds of other products. These compounds can seep into water from factories, landfills, and other sources and are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to high cholesterol, some cancers, and learning delays in children.
Every water sample tested had measurable levels of arsenic
In addition, every sample Consumer Reports tested had measurable levels of arsenic, including ten with levels between 3 and 10 ppb, about 8 percent of the total. The current EPA limit for arsenic is 10 ppb, even though the EPA had previously considered a 3 ppb limit as feasible. CR scientists and other health experts have long called on the EPA to lower the limit to 3 ppb. Arsenic can enter water through natural deposits or industrial or agricultural pollution. Exposure to arsenic has been linked to lowered IQ in children and cancer.
Lead was detected in nearly every water sample tested
Nearly all samples tested by CR had measurable levels of lead, which can contaminate water when it leaches from lead service lines and lead pipes in people’s homes. Scientists and the EPA agree that exposure to lead is unsafe at any level. It has been tied to reduced IQ and slowed growth in children, high blood pressure, and reproductive problems.
The EPA does not require utilities to take significant steps to lower lead in water – including replacing service lines – unless 10 percent or more of samples from homes exceed 15 ppb. One water sample collected by CR in New Britain, CT, had lead levels of 31.2 ppb, more than double what the federal government deems acceptable. CR believes that the EPA should collect and test more samples from inside people’s homes to better protect consumers.
What consumers can do:
Consumer Reports has created an interactive tool to help people find out whether their tap water has unsafe levels of PFAS and heavy metals with advice about filters they can use to cleanse tap water of contaminants. CR recommends:
- If you get your water from a community water system, contact your local water supplier for a copy of its consumer confidence report (CCR), which includes data on water tested in your service area
- If a community water report is not available or if you get your water from a private well, consider having your water tested by an EPA certified lab. Get more information at epa.gov/dwlabcert
- If you are concerned about lead, especially if you are pregnant or have young children, you should contact your utility to find out if it offers free testing for lead. Healthy Babies Bright Futures (hbbf.org/lead-drinking-water) offers low-cost test kits.
- You can also purchase a pitcher or under-the-sink filter for removing lead from your water. Some under-sink filters are also available for filtering out both lead and PFAS.
- Be sure that any filter you purchase meets standards set by NSF International and the American National Standards Institute for removing the specific contaminants you’re concerned about. Consumer Reports’ Water Filter Buying Guide includes helpful advice and ratings to find the right filter for you.
“Americans shouldn’t have to research the quality of water in their community and spend their own money on extra equipment just to access clean water,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports. “We need stronger federal standards so that everyone can have confidence that their drinking water is safe and free of dangerous contaminants.”
Michael McCauley, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-902-9537