For decades, communities in the Ohio Valley have grappled with water contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals, sometimes called PFOA or C-8 that are often used to make non-stick pans and other items, but this type of contamination isn’t limited to the region.
A newly-updated map shows the number of contaminated sites that are known to exist around the country has nearly doubled in the past year.
The non-profit Environmental Working Group and a team of environmental health researchers at Northeastern University in Boston developed the map, which tracks publicly-known contaminated sites reported from both EPA testing and state and local agencies.
The number of sites has exploded in the 10 months since the map was first published. Last February, researchers knew of 52 sites in 19 states. Today, they know of 94 sites in 22 states that report the presence of these chemicals, which are linked to cancer, thyroid disease and other health problems.
Much of the newly noted activity came from Michigan. Communities there are dealing with contamination from 3M's Scotchgard fabric protector used by shoemaker Wolverine World Wide.
Martinsburg, in the Eastern Panhandle, was the only site in West Virginia researchers added during this update.
The map includes data from EPA’s testing of public water drinking systems between 2013 and 2016 and reported contamination from factories, landfills and airports gathered from state and local agencies and press coverage. It maps both C-8 and PFAS pollution. PFAS are replacements for C-8 chemicals companies no longer make and include GenX.
Bill Walker, an investigative editor with the Environmental Working Group, said the list is by no means exhaustive and many more communities are likely affected.
"Every place that has gone looking for it systematically, with any reason at all to suspect they might have contamination, has found it," he said. "So, that’s why we’re confident in saying that we’re nowhere near the end of knowing the true scope of this problem."
Walker says EPA could do more. The agency does not track contaminated sites. It has issued both short and long-term advisories on suggested exposure levels, but has not set a national legal limit for C-8 in drinking water.
EPA will host a national leadership summit on PFAS contamination next month in Washington, D.C.