Drinking water in low-income communities is more likely to be contaminated by ‘forever chemicals,’ research finds

By Cyrus Moulton

PFAS, or forever chemicals, are widespread and more likely to be found in public water systems serving low-income communities and communities of color in New Jersey, according to new research from Northeastern University.

“This really comes out of a long tradition of environmental justice research that talks about the overburdened nature for people of color and of low income,” says Phil Brown, university distinguished professor of sociology and health sciences and the director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeastern. 

The findings were published Wednesday in the latest issue of Environmental Health Perspectives

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of 14,000 persistent, toxic chemicals that are used in countless consumer and industrial products — everything from your waterproof hiking gear to the container for your fast-food burger. They are often called “forever chemicals” because they are extremely persistent and can build up in organisms — including humans — over time.

New Jersey was the first state to regulate certain PFAS in drinking water, with statewide sampling beginning in 2019 on all public water systems. 

“This was great data because you could see the entire state, all the public drinking water systems, no matter what the size,” Brown says. 

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