Researchers find “forever chemicals” in U.S. tap water

Jul 9, 2023, 9:00 AM

Residents in three areas of Bountiful City were faced with overnight water trouble on Tuesday. But...

Residents in three areas of Bountiful City were faced with overnight water trouble on Tuesday. But by Tuesday afternoon, officials said the issues had been resolved (Tom Baker)

(Tom Baker)

SALT LAKE CITY — Half of the tap water in the United States could contain “forever chemicals.”  

However, ABC News correspondent Jim Ryan told KSL NewsRadio that only certain areas of the nation have reason to be concerned. 


What are forever chemicals?

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a whole class of manmade chemicals called the “forever chemicals.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said these companies use these chemicals to make coatings for products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. PFAS are in many different household products like furniture, clothing, and cooking appliances. Ryan said we have accurately deemed these chemicals as “forever” because they stay around for a long time in the environment and in our bodies.

Ryan said in the U.S. Environment Protection Agency‘s nationwide check, they found about 12,000 types of PFAS.

“Only 32 of those candidate compounds are picked up by lab tests,” he explained. “So there are many more that may be out there in the environment we just don’t really know about yet.”

Should Utahns be concerned?

The U.S. Geological Survey found that at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is contaminated with PFAS. But are the levels high enough to evoke concern?

Ryan said the level itself isn’t the issue, it’s the length of exposure. Therefore, if these chemicals happen to be in your drinking supply for years, that’s when possible negative reactions began to take effect. 

“(PFAS have) been linked to things like cancer, obesity, thyroid disease… high cholesterol, even decreased fertility among men,” he said. 

Luckily for Utah, Ryan said the chemicals are not common in the Northwest. 

“When it comes to forever chemicals, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, those places are all fairly clear,” he said. 

PFAS detections in point-of-use tapwater collected from public-supply (blue circles) and private-wells (green triangles) across the United States including Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Ryan said hotspots for PFAS detections sit around “a lot of East Coast places a lot of the Upper Midwest, those places where industrialization really took hold in the early 20th century.” 

“So you know, I think those folks in the Pacific Northwest,” he continued. “As an accident of geography, aren’t having such a problem with this.”

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Researchers find “forever chemicals” in U.S. tap water