AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. -A new study released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that perfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, are more dangerous at lower levels than previously thought.
High levels of these chemicals, which are found in firefighting foam, were detected in the Airway Heights drinking water system last year. The PFAS were found at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline.
Currently, the EPA guideline for safe levels of PFAS is 70 parts per trillion. But the study says safe levels are 7-10 parts per trillion.
“Scientists' were saying ‘hey that's not protective of all the problems we know are associated’ including immune problems and developmental problems," said Sharon Lerner, who is an environmental reporter for The Intercept. "What it does is it increases the risk for some somewhat rare conditions and other less rare conditions."
Lerner has been studying PFAS chemicals since 2015. She also wrote a 16-part investigative series about the chemicals' impact on the environment.
“They accumulate in the body and it takes years to get rid of them," said Lerner. "I don't want to alarm people but at the same time I think that scientists who study this closely agree.”
Lerner says health risks for individuals exposed to contaminated water include cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
The study also describes how daily consumption of low levels of the chemicals appeared to have an effect on rats and mice tested in labs, including delayed eye-opening in newborns and lower body weight, as well as changed to brain activity.
Fairchild Air Force Base says they were not aware of the CDC study until Thursday. They say their focus remains on continuing to test some well systems that are currently above the EPA health advisory level (70 parts per trillion).
You can read more about Lerner’s work HERE.