Thousands of sites across the US are polluted with toxic 'forever chemicals', new study says

These chemicals, also called PFAS, are contaminating numerous cities at a higher rate than previously estimated.
Brittney Grimes
Industrial site
Industrial site


Nearly 60,000 cities around the United States have been rated as contaminated with toxic 'forever chemicals'.

Forever chemicals and their prevalence

Forever chemicals, also called PFAS, an acronym for per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of 12,000 chemicals widely used in various products. These substances are manmade compounds that do not break down own their own and are costly to destroy due to their ability to handle high heat and chemical stability, along with repelling both water and grease. Forever chemicals are very common and easily found in many consumer and industrial products. They can last in the environment for many years, appropriately named forever chemicals.

According to a new study, there are thousands of PFAS compounds across the U.S., and the research shows that findings vastly underestimated the prevalence of these toxic chemicals, in part because they are used so often in so many items. "While the scale of presumptive contamination we identified is large, it likely underestimates PFAS contamination in the United States," the study mentioned. However, due to the prevalence of these chemicals, they are also destroying the environment, making their way into the water, onto plants and in animals.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Sites contaminated with PFAS

Researchers from Northeastern University in the U.S. found and confirmed 57,412 sites with possible PFAS contamination. This includes 49,145 industrial facilities, 3,493 military sites and 519 airports. These locations included “fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) discharge sites, certain industrial facilities, and sites related to PFAS-containing waste.”

Fluorinated AFFF is used most frequently in fire-training and extinguishing fuel-based fires. AFFF has been used at military sites as part of firefighting training. Airports use fluorinated AFFF for fire emergency training activities as well.

The research team found that 72% of these sites were contaminated, either directly or through collective analysis of data.

Goal of the study

The researchers stated their goal for the study while identifying these contaminants. “The goal of this approach is not to identify every possible location of PFAS contamination but rather to develop a conservative and actionable model based on the best available data regarding sources of PFAS contamination.”

Studies have shown that PFAS exposure can cause health problems, including an increased risk for certain cancers, hormone disruption, effects children’s growth and decreased immunity.

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The researchers shared a “presumptive contamination model” map that identifies the different locations of contamination sites can be found. This map could help various industries pinpoint locations of contamination and exposure.

Thousands of sites across the US are polluted with toxic 'forever chemicals', new study says
Map of presumptive contamination sites.

The next steps

PFAS effects every aspect of society. The economic and social impacts of PFAS contamination include “health impacts, testing and remediation costs, agricultural and real estate impacts, and burdens on local and state governments.”

Nealy 200 million U.S. residents are affected by PFAS, receiving contaminated drinking water and being exposed to it in the environment, according to the study.

“State and federal agencies can use a presumptive contamination approach to identify and prioritize locations for monitoring, regulation, and remediation,” the research stated.

The team hopes to use this research as a standard to help locate places heavily polluted with PFAS , monitor it, and figure out the best way to reverse the effects of the contamination.

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