Is Tap Water the Same in Every City?

Bottled water is a booming business, and a new report from an environmental group underscores the fact that it is not only popular, but possibly necessary.

The Environmental Working Group reports that the tap water in many U.S. cities contains PFAS, which are commonly called "forever chemicals."
The Environmental Working Group reports that the tap water in many U.S. cities contains PFAS, which are commonly called "forever chemicals."

According to a recent study by the Environmental Working Group, many cities and regions across the United States are supplying residents with potentially harmful tap water. The research builds on previous work by the Environmental Protection Agency that analyzed water samples in search of so-called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

The study identified 20 places where the water contains PFAS levels of at least 10 parts per trillion, including Philadelphia, Miami, and Washington, DC, and several places with levels over 100 parts per trillion. There were 43 locales where levels reached 1 part per trillion, including Las Vegas, New York, and Nashville, Tennessee.

PFAS, which are commonly called "forever chemicals" because they tend to remain in the environment for very long periods of time, have been linked to health problems such as raised cholesterol, obesity, reproductive issues, liver disease, and kidney disease.

While Meridian, Mississippi was the only place completely free of PFAS, Seattle, Washington and Tuscaloosa, Alabama were cited as having levels of less than 1 part per trillion. Although the EPA has set an acceptable contamination level of 70 parts per trillion, the limit is unenforceable, and many states have opted for much stricter limits.

In fact, toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, has said the limit should be far lower, perhaps even .1 part per trillion. “If you look at the data, pancreatic tumors are present at very, very low concentrations,” Birnbaum said at a 2019 conference on PFAS.

Trading tap for a bottle:

  • The global bottled water market is expected to grow from $185 billion USD in 2015 to approximately $334 billion by 2023.

  • It takes twice the amount of water inside a plastic bottle to make the bottle itself.

  • According to a 2013 report from Beverage Digest, the average American drinks around 58 gallons (264 liters) of water a year, with 21 gallons (95 liters) coming from bottled water.

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