PFAS contamination poses risk to drinking water


River in Des Moines, Iowa
Photo by Philip Hall, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | August 6th, 2019

The U.S. military found high levels of perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contaminating water at Air National Guard bases in Des Moines and Sioux City earlier this year. 

The Des Moines Water Works, along with representatives from the local, state, and federal governments, formed a working group to better understand this contamination and the effects it may have on drinking water.

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a health advisory for PFAS contamination in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. At some sites, the levels were nearly 200 times that number. So far no PFAS have been found in the drinking water near these cities, though more testing is being conducted to determine if the contamination has spread to area wells. 

PFAS were once found in several consumer products, from carpets to clothing to paper packaging, but they were phased out of production between 2000 and 2006. However, they are still used in a variety of industrial processes, as well as in firefighting foams used at airfields, including these Iowa bases.

Studies have shown these chemicals can adversely affect immunity, cholesterol, liver tissue, certain hormones, and the development of fetuses and infants, as well as increase the risk of some cancers. 

Though a few communities have been exposed to PFAS through contaminated water, most people are exposed to them through consumer products and food. Because of this, virtually everyone contains some level of PFAS in their blood, but scientists have found these levels to be decreasing over time.

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