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8.9 million Floridians have 'forever chemicals' in their drinking water, new data show

 Drinking water samples being taken from Tampa Bay Water's Lake Bridge Water Treatment Plant in Hillsborough County.
Jessica Meszaros
Drinking water samples are taken from Tampa Bay Water's Lake Bridge Water Treatment Plant in Hillsborough County.

So far, water utility reports reveal 89.3 million people have been exposed to PFAS nationwide, although a peer-reviewed article from 2020 estimates that number to be around 200 million.

Nearly 90 million people in the United States have toxic "forever chemicals," or PFAS, in their drinking water, according to updated federal data.

Of the 89.3 million exposed nationwide, 8.9 million are Floridians, as the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group crunched those numbers based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s database.

The data show PFAS were present in 33% of systems tested so far.

The latest numbers water that utilities reported to the EPA are part of a national effort to test water systems for the presence of 29 PFAS compounds in public water systems serving over 3,000 people between now and 2026.

PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic even at low levels, as they do not break down and can build up in the body. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness.

"It's quite shocking,” said David Andrews, deputy director of investigations and senior scientist at Environmental Working Group. He’s been researching PFAS contamination in water for over a decade.

Andrews said the actual scale of contamination in drinking water is likely much greater than so far reported because the EPA’s results are based just on the latest testing from about one-third of water systems, which serve 90% of the population.

"I think in the next two years we'll see much more reporting on the contamination being discovered in smaller drinking water systems in particular,” Andrews said.

“But I will say that I was involved with a peer-reviewed publication that came out a few years ago, where we calculated that there are probably 200 million people that have PFAS in their drinking water."

The EPA issued last month maximum contamination levels in drinking waterfor six of these PFAS chemicals, including four parts per trillion on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) , which are designated as hazardous substances.

Click here to view a full list of the latest numbers coming from utilities in Florida and around the country. You can also find an updated interactive PFAS U.S. map here.
Filtration is the best way to get PFAS out of your tap, and Environmental Working Group researchers have tested 10 popular water filters to measure how well each reduced chemical exposure.

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Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.