How Four Sources Are Contaminating US Groundwater with PFAS

Groundwater serves as a crucial lifeline for millions of Americans, providing safe drinking water to over 50 percent of the population. It also plays a vital role in irrigation and food production. 

However, this invaluable resource faces a silent and insidious threat in the form of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These synthetic compounds, ubiquitous in various industries since the 1940s, pose a significant environmental and health risk due to their persistence and toxicity. 

In this article, we explore the pervasive contamination of US groundwater with PFAS, examining three primary sources responsible for its spread. By shedding light on this pressing issue, we underscore the urgent need for proactive measures to safeguard our groundwater and protect public health.

Industrial Sites and Manufacturing Facilities

Industrial sites and manufacturing facilities emerge as key contributors to the widespread presence of PFAS in US groundwater. Over 49,000 industrial facilities in the US, as documented by the National Library of Medicine, have historically utilized PFAS in diverse processes. These include the production of non-stick cookware, water-resistant textiles, and firefighting foams.

Unfortunately, due to inadequate disposal methods and inadvertent spills, these hazardous chemicals permeate the soil and groundwater. This establishes zones of contamination that pose significant health and environmental risks.

Firefighting Operations Sites

Firefighting operations, particularly those employing aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), have emerged as significant contributors to PFAS contamination of US groundwater. TorHoerman Law reports that AFFF, which is used extensively at industrial sites, military bases, and airports, contains PFAS compounds essential for effective fire suppression. 

The widespread contamination of PFAS at over 3,000 military sites and 500 airports, as estimated by the National Library of Medicine, emphasizes the urgency for action. 

Despite their vital role in responding to fires, the continuous release of PFAS into the environment perpetuates groundwater pollution. This poses significant environmental and health hazards that demand immediate attention. 

Surrounding groundwater of these contaminated sites is found to be heavily polluted with PFAS, raising concerns about potential contamination of drinking water sources. As awareness of these issues grows, both individuals and authorities have initiated legal actions against PFAS manufacturers such as 3M and DuPont. 

Moreover, lawsuits like the firefighting foam lawsuit claim governmental negligence in implementing proactive measures. They emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive and swift action to mitigate the impact of PFAS pollution.

Landfills and Waste Sites

Landfills and waste sites serve as reservoirs for PFAS contamination, perpetuating the cycle of pollution. Many consumer products containing PFAS end up in landfills, where they gradually degrade, releasing these persistent chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Additionally, industrial waste containing PFAS compounds is often disposed of in these sites, exacerbating the contamination.

According to The Guardian, the US industry has discarded at least 60 million pounds of PFAS “forever chemical” waste over the past five years. A recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed alarming findings in Minnesota, where officials discovered PFAS in 100 closed landfills. Among these sites, 16 had PFAS detections exceeding state drinking water standards by tenfold, highlighting the severity of the issue.

Moreover, the leachate generated from landfills, a toxic cocktail of chemicals, percolates through the waste. It can carry PFAS into the groundwater, contaminating aquifers and water sources. This widespread diffusion of PFAS from landfills poses a significant challenge to groundwater remediation efforts.

Agricultural Practices and Runoff

Agricultural practices play a significant role in the contamination of US groundwater with PFAS, primarily through the use of PFAS-based pesticides and fertilizers. 

Recent testing reported by The Guardian revealed that some widely used food pesticides in the US contain “potentially dangerous” levels of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.” Despite their initial adoption for pest control and crop enhancement purposes, the persistence of these chemicals in the environment has led to unintended consequences. 

PFAS was found in three well-known agricultural pesticides, one of which is Intrepid 2F. According to California state data, Intrepid 2F ranks as the second most widely applied product after Roundup. 

In 2021 alone, over 1.7 million pounds of Intrepid 2F were applied to more than 1.3 million cumulative acres of California land. The highest usage was recorded in the Central Valley on crops such as almonds, grapes, peaches, and pistachios. 

Runoff from agricultural lands carries PFAS compounds into surface water bodies, which eventually infiltrate groundwater reservoirs. Additionally, the use of biosolids, organic materials derived from sewage treatment plants and often containing PFAS, as fertilizers further exacerbate the issue.

Moreover, research published in Science Direct has highlighted that PFAS migration onto agricultural properties leads to chemical accumulation in livestock. This poses potential health risks as PFAS can enter the human body through the consumption of contaminated food products.


What are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals used in various industrial and consumer products, including firefighting foam. They are known for their resistance to heat, water, and oil, which makes them effective in firefighting applications.

What are the concerns associated with PFAS?

PFAS have been linked to numerous health and environmental concerns due to their persistence in the environment and potential toxicity. They can accumulate in the human body over time and have been associated with various health issues, including cancer, liver damage, and reproductive problems.

What is the role of firefighting foam in PFAS contamination?

Firefighting foam, AFFF, has been widely used by military and firefighting agencies for decades to combat flammable liquid fires. However, the use of PFAS-containing foam has resulted in the release of these chemicals into the environment. This has led to widespread contamination of water sources, soil, and wildlife.

Who can file a Firefighting Foam Lawsuit?

Individuals, communities, or entities affected by PFAS contamination resulting from the use of firefighting foam may be eligible to file a lawsuit. This can include residents living near military bases, airports, or industrial sites where PFAS-containing foam has been used.

In conclusion, the contamination of US groundwater with PFAS is a multifaceted issue with profound implications for public health and the environment. Industrial and firefighting sites, landfills, and agricultural practices serve as major contributors to this pervasive pollution, necessitating immediate action and comprehensive regulation.

Addressing PFAS contamination requires a concerted effort involving government intervention and stricter regulations on chemical use and disposal. Additionally, investment in remediation technologies is crucial to effectively mitigate the impact of PFAS pollution. 

Furthermore, public awareness and community engagement are crucial in advocating for clean water initiatives and holding those responsible for pollution accountable.