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Study: ‘Forever chemicals’ taint tap water in a Mountain West state

The U.S. Geological Survey tested drinking water from more than 700 locations across all 50 states and found that at least 45% of the nation’s water could be contaminated with PFAS.
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The U.S. Geological Survey tested drinking water from more than 700 locations across all 50 states and found that at least 45% of the nation’s water could be contaminated with PFAS.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in everything from nonstick pans to cosmetics. They’re known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally, which is why they’re building up in water supplies.

The U.S. Geological Survey tested drinking water from more than 700 locations across all 50 states and found that at least 45% of the nation’s water could be contaminated. Urban centers near known sources of PFAS – like factories, airports and military bases – were the hotspots. The heaviest exposures were around Southern California, the Great Plains, Great Lakes, and Eastern Seaboard.

In the Mountain West, high concentrations of PFAS were found only in Colorado; specifically, Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.

Kelly Smalling, a hydrologist who led the new research, said the study is the first to compare PFAS in tap water from both unregulated private wells and regulated public supplies nationwide.

“Decision-makers could use that information to inform potential treatment, inform testing,” Smalling said. “The public can use that information to kind of understand their personal risk of exposure.”

In recent years, Colorado has taken steps to limit PFAS contamination. In 2021, the state Department of Public Health launched a PFAS fund that generates money for testing and treating water. The state is also phasing out contaminated products such as food packaging, furniture and carpets, and has banned the use and sale of tainted firefighting foam.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.

Kaleb Roedel