Harvard study discovers millions exposed to toxic water, including in MN

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Over six million people in the U.S. have been exposed to drinking water contaminated with deadly toxins, according to a new study from Harvard.

Harvard researchers analyzed national data from the Environmental Protection Agency and looked at concentrations of six types of chemicals – PFAs – in water samples collected between 2013-15.

Of the 36,000 water samples collected, 66 sources were found to have the toxins.

Who is at risk?

The study ranked states by where residents are most at-risk from water toxicity down to the least at-risk – and Minnesota was 10th.

The toxins detected in 13 states including Minnesota – the others being California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois – account for 75 percent of the total toxins found across the country.

The main study doesn't break down specific areas and sources contaminated, but a map reveals sections of states contaminated. In Minnesota, the map shows toxin detections in north-central Minnesota as well as the metro area up to the border with Wisconsin.

It could be worse than thought, however.

The Harvard University study warns that the initial numbers are likely underestimates because the government data does not account for a third of the country. That omits approximately 100 million people.

What are PFAs?

The chemicals, called polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl (PFAs), are usually used to fight fire, insulate pipes, and stain-proof furniture and have been detected in public water tanks across the nation, including Minnesota.

They are linked to cancer, obesity and other illnesses, CBS News reported.

According to the EPA, PFAs are widely used in manufacturing and can be found in products such as cleaners, textiles, leather, paper and paints, fire-fighting foams and wire insulation. They are so common because of their useful properties such as fire resistance and oil, stain, grease and water repellency.

How did this happen?

The study linked the contaminants to industrial sites, military fire training areas and wastewater treatment plants. PFAs used at these sites somehow found their way into the nearby water supply.

"The number of industrial sites that manufacture or use these compounds, the number of military fire training areas, and the number of wastewater treatment plants are all significant predictors of PFAS detection frequencies and concentrations in public water supplies," researchers wrote in the study.

Just last year top health officials warned about the use of PFAs and urged that they be monitored more closely, according to The New York Times. They reported that a statement signed by 200 international scientists — environmental health experts, toxicologists, epidemiologists and others — urged countries around the world to restrict the use of PFAs.

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