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New research highlights the extent of PFAS groundwater contamination

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aka “forever chemicals”) continue to be top of mind for risk management professionals. The group of chemicals nearly won Verisk’s Emerging Issues Bracket Challenge this past March. Perhaps not surprising when you consider that an increasing number of studies now link exposure to PFAS with negative health effects.1 Moreover, the true extent of PFAS contamination is only now coming to light. 

PFAS in groundwater

The true extent of PFAS contamination is only now coming to light.

PFAS in groundwater

Not only are PFAS long-lasting and difficult to remove, but they also have the propensity to contaminate groundwater.2 Complicating the matter, testing for PFAS is challenging, and standard testing approaches approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are oftentimes not sufficient. The EPA notes, “This means that site-specific measurement tools to aid site practitioners in evaluating groundwater vulnerability at PFAS-contaminated sites are needed.” However, such diagnostics are being developed and refined.3

In the Eastern United States

Now, new research conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides a glimpse into just how ubiquitous PFAS contamination may actually be.4 According to the research, which involved manually sampling groundwater at over 250 sites in the Eastern U.S., 54% of samples tested positive for at least one PFAS, whereas 47% of samples tested positive for two or more PFAS. Interestingly, the researchers also found that while 60% of public-supply samples tested positive for PFAS, only 20% of private-supply samples tested positive for the chemical.5


Beyond recommendations from the EPA, the federal government has not yet begun to regulate PFAS in groundwater.6 As such, a number of states have taken it upon themselves to adopt formal rules and guidance related to regulating PFAS. Currently, 18 states have rules governing acceptable levels of PFAS in groundwater, with the most restrictive concentration being Illinois, and the most lenient being Nevada.7 Businesses operating in these states may have to increasingly reconsider their use of PFAS, especially as relevant regulations continue to be adopted.

Travis Decaminada

Travis Decaminada is senior analyst, Emerging Issues, Underwriting Solutions at Verisk.

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  1. EPA – “PFOA, PFOS and Other PFAS”.< >
  2. EPA – “Addressing Challenges of PFAS: Protecting Groundwater and Treating Contaminated Sources”. < >
  3. Ibid.
  4. JD Supra – “U.S. Geological Survey Authors Publish Study Identifying PFAS in Groundwater Used as a Source of Drinking Water in the Eastern U.S.”.< >
  5. Ibid.
  6. JD Supra – “PFAS Update: State-by-State Regulation of PFAS Substances in Groundwater”.< >
  7. Ibid.

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