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Nearly 9 million Floridians have 'forever chemicals' in their drinking water, latest numbers show

Drinking water samples being taken from Tampa Bay Water's Lake Bridge Water Treatment Plant in Hillsborough County.
Jessica Meszaros
Drinking water samples being taken from Tampa Bay Water's Lake Bridge Water Treatment Plant in Hillsborough County.

Nearly 90 million people in the United States have toxic forever chemicals, or PFAS, in their drinking water, according to updated federal data.

Of the 89.3 million exposed nationwide, 8.9 million are Floridians, as the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group crunched those numbers based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s database.

The data show PFAS were present in 33% of systems tested so far.

The latest numbers water utilities reported to the EPA is part of a national effort to test water systems for the presence of 29 PFAS compounds in all public water systems serving over 3,000 people between now and 2026.

These chemicals are toxic even at low levels, as they do not break down and can build up in the body. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness.

"It's quite shocking,” said David Andrews, deputy director of investigations and senior scientist at EWG. He’s been researching PFAS contamination in water for over a decade.

Andrews said the actual scale of contamination in drinking water is likely much greater than so far reported because the EPA’s results are based just on the latest testing from about one-third of water systems, which serve 90% of the population.

"I think in the next two years, we'll see much more reporting on the contamination being discovered in smaller drinking water systems in particular,” Andrews said.

“But I will say that I was involved with a peer-reviewed publication that came out a few years ago, where we calculated that there are probably 200 million people that have PFAS in their drinking water."

The EPA issued last month maximum contamination levels in drinking waterfor six of these chemicals, including 4 parts per trillion on PFOA and PFOS — those two were also designated as hazardous substances.

Click here to view a full list of the latest numbers coming from utilities, like Tampa, Bradenton, Gulfport, Pasco County, and Bartow. You can also find an updated interactive PFAS map here.

Filtration is the best way to get PFAS out of your tap, and EWG researchers have tested 10 popular water filters to measure how well each reduced chemical exposure.

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Jessica Meszaros