'Forever Chemicals' Found in Water Sources of 800,000 Kentucky Residents

Toxic "forever chemicals" were detected in the drinking water of 800,000 Kentucky residents between 2012 and 2017, according to an Environmental Working Group analysis of utility tests.

While evaluating the results of tests conducted by utility companies in Louisville, Lebanon Junction and Mt. Washington, the EWG found levels of Per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at concentrations five times higher than that considered safe by EWG scientists, the activist group said on Tuesday.

PFAS, which can stay in water for thousands of years and have been found in the bloodstreams of 99 percent of Americans, exist in a range of items, including food packaging, firefighting foam and household products. PFAS exposure may affect growth in infants, increase cancer risks and affect individuals' immune systems, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The chemicals have been documented in 610 drinking water sites used by 19 million people across the country, according to a study published by the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University earlier this year.

However, the EPA has not issued a legally binding limit on PFAS. The agency has instead established a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, which the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies says are the most widespread PFAS. The EWG had called for a much more stringent limit of 1 part per trillion.

The EPA has been criticized for moving too slowly to address blossoming PFAS contamination, and legislators have sought to address the crisis by proposing bills in Congress.

Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell introduced a bill to ban the use of PFAS in food containers and cookware shortly after the EWG's May analysis was published.

"We already know the double cheeseburger and fries are not the most healthy meal, but no one suspects the dangerous chemicals seeping into your food from the wrapper or food containers. This important legislation ensures unsafe, hazardous chemicals are not allowed near the food we eat," Dingell said in a press release introducing the legislation.

Though EWG analysis shows that Michigan, along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California have particularly high rates of PFAS contamination, these elevated levels recorded may be due to higher testing, said EWG senior scientist Dave Andrews.

"As we see states test more, they're going to see more of this contamination," Andrews told Newsweek. "Most of the country is coming at this in a state of ignorance and not knowing the extent of contamination."

No water flows from a faucet during a drinking water supply cut in Santiago, Chile, on February 26, 2017. Analysis from the EWG found PFAS contamination in Kentucky drinking water serving 800,000 people. MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images