PFAS Contamination in California

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By: Leia Ku Cheng Yee, Communications and Development Intern
Since I have been living in California for 5 years, and have only been drinking tap water, I have always wondered if the water is safe for every Californian. Although I am a tap water advocate, and a firm believer that plastic bottled water is negatively impacting the environment, it is also significant to point out that not all individuals have the privilege to enjoy clean water. 
After listening to Andrea Amico’s story about the PFAS contamination at the Pease International Tradeport, I did some research and discovered that more than 300 drinking water wells in California have traces of chemicals, including PFAS, that is linked to cancer. I was shocked after reading about it in the Los Angeles Times, because most Californians are unaware that they are drinking traces of chemicals. Although they are concentrated largely in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, contaminated wells are found statewide, in rural as well as urban areas. 
PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they persist indefinitely and accumulate in our bodies. Children and mothers are the most vulnerable to this chemical, and it can affect their reproductive and developmental health. PFAS also has been traced to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as high cholesterol and thyroid disease. It is a key ingredient in firefighting foam used in military bases, and has become a major component of groundwater pollution. But the chemicals are everywhere, hard to break down, and expensive to clean up. To learn more about PFAS, visit http://chej.org/toxictuesdays/.
Some utilities have treated the water to remove most of the chemicals, while others have started blending contaminated water with other sources to lower their concentration. Now, the new state law has required water providers to notify customers if the level of PFAS exceeds the threshold. But, it is not enough. Although the ultimate solution is to clean up, funding is scarce, and it is simply too costly to treat or replace the contaminated water. To cover the costs, water providers across California have begun what legal experts suspect could become a flood of lawsuits. 
Moreover, PFAS contamination in California is also an environmental justice issue. On any given day, one million Californians lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately harmed by this drinking water crisis, which affects hundreds of small, primarily rural communities across the state. In many cases, these communities lack the collective resources to pay for the high costs of treating or replacing contaminated water. It is not unusual for low-income residents to pay upwards of 10 percent of their income for safe water. 

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