PFAS Contamination Map Underscores Widespread Pollution

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In conjunction with the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute of Northeastern University, the non-profit watchdog organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) published last week an updated version of their interactive map documenting alleged sites of PFAS contamination in the United States. It purports to chart 610 locations in 43 states that have reported known contamination with PFAS chemicals, potentially affecting the drinking water of approximately 19 million people. A prior version of the map issued in July 2018 documented only 172 contaminated sites in 40 states, but direct comparisons between the maps from the past two years fail to tell the whole story. This year’s version includes an increased scope of sources including the Department of Defense and local utilities around the country. Regardless, EWG’s 2019 PFAS map provides both a powerful visualization of both the widespread effect of PFAS in the U.S., as well as a growing awareness of the contaminants’ potential dangers and exposures.

With three different colored dots representing PFAS contamination at military sites, in drinking water, and on “other known sites,” the map provides a striking illumination of areas with high PFAS pollution. A state that is no stranger to highly publicized water pollution problems, Michigan leads the pack and displays a startling 192 contaminated sites on the EWG map. Because Michigan employs a more comprehensive testing protocol for PFAS chemicals than many other states, the EWG points out that the 192 “hits” merely proves that PFAS are ubiquitous, and if you look for them, you’ll find them. Following Michigan are California with 47 known sites, and New Jersey with 43 known sites. Both of these states also have heightened awareness of water pollution issues generally, and PFAS pollution specifically, likely influencing the elevated “hits” for these areas.

The EWG map serves as yet another reminder of the looming litigation that certain landowners, manufacturers, and the regulated industry can expect to face in the years to come, if not already.