EPA reveals 120,000 sites in the US where people may be exposed to toxic ‘forever chemicals,’ the Guardian reports

Oil pumps at sunset, industrial oil pumps equipment.
Oil and gas production facilities are among 120,000 sites identified by the EPA as potential sources of toxic ‘forever chemicals,’ the Guardian reports. Getty Images
  • More than 120,000 US sites may cause exposure to “forever chemicals,” the Guardian reports.
  • Data from the EPA showed the most affected areas were in Colorado, Oklahoma, and California.
  • The chemicals, called PFAs, are linked to cancer, other health problems, and developmental issues.

More than 120,000 facilities around the US may be exposing people to dangerous “forever chemicals” linked to cancer and other diseases, according to EPA data obtained by the Guardian.

The report includes four times more affected areas than previously known, the Guardian reported, including industrial manufacturers, oil, gas, and mining operations, landfills, military sites, and some airports.

The areas most affected include Colorado (with 21,400 sites), California (13,000), and Oklahoma (12,000), according to the Guardian report, which includes a full map of the facilities identified by the EPA.

One Colorado county alone had more than 8,000 potential PFAs sites, the majority of which were related to oil and gas operations, the Guardian reported. The area, Weld County, is also home to more than 328,981, per the 2020 census, who may be exposed to the chemicals.

Nearby residents “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels,” David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health, told the Guardian, adding that there may be even more sites than suggested by the latest data.

PFAs are unregulated and linked to cancer, immune system disruption, and developmental issues

The manmade chemicals in question are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Known as PFAs, these substances are notable because they don’t break down over time, and can accumulate in the environment, including the air and water, as well as inside in the human body. PFAs have been linked to health risks like certain cancers, high cholesterol, immune system disruption, thyroid problems, and developmental issues in infants, according to the EPA.

PFAs can be found in facilities that use the chemicals for various manufacturing or industrial purposes, including oil and gas processing, metal coating, printing, waste management, cleaning, and fire-fighting.

The chemicals have also been detected in household products like cosmetics, carpeting and upholstery, and rain gear, or other water-repellent clothing.

Food and drinking water can also contain PFAs through exposure to grease and stain-resistant packaging (like takeout containers) and non-stick cookware.

A previous July report found 29,900 locations known or suspected of using the chemicals, twelve times the number identified in 2020.

Currently, PFAs are not federally regulated, although the EPA issues voluntary guidelines, and some states have set regulatory limits.