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  • Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

    USA Today investigation reveals 'forever chemicals' found in West Texas water supply

    By Mateo Rosiles, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal,


    Several cities across West Texas and Eastern New Mexico have water systems that have been found to be contaminated by "forever chemicals."

    This revelation comes after an investigation by USA TODAY, which found several cities in the aforementioned areas to have water systems containing various levels of PFAS according to tests done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    What are PFAS? Are they dangerous?

    According to the EPA, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS — are widely used chemicals or components that take a long time to break down.

    "PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s because of their useful properties," according to the EPA. "There are thousands of different PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others."

    Because of their use, PFAS have been found to contaminate water systems and soil, have made their way into the blood of animals and humans and have been linked to harmful health effects such as some forms of cancers, reproductive health, developmental health and others.

    West Texas cities found with PFAS

    • Amarillo — In 2023, one PFAS, PFBA, was found in the municipal water supply at the Arden Road Pump Station. The level was recorded at .3 parts per trillion above the 5 ppt EPA minimum reporting level. PFBA is currently unregulated by the EPA.
    • Canyon — The same PFAS found in Amarillo, PFBA, was also found in the Canyon Municipal Water System in 2023 at the Amarillo Intertie at .2 ppt above the minimum reporting level.
    • Pampa — PFPeA, another unregulated PFAS by the EPA, was found in the city's water supply in 2023 at .2 ppt above the minimum reporting level.
    • Plainview — PFBA was also found at the Jack Skaggs Municipal Water Plant at .3 ppt above the minimum reporting level in 2023.
    • Lubbock — PFBA has been found twice at the South Water Treatment Plant. A 2023 test found 7.1 ppt in the water supply — 1.4 times above the minimum reporting level. A test in February 2024 saw an increase in PFBA in the water, testing at 10.9 ppt — 2.2 times above the minimum reporting level.
    • Slaton — An unregulated PFAS — 6:2 FTS — was detected in the water supply in 2023 at 7.1 ppt — 1.4 times above the minimum reporting level.
    • Post — Tests done throughout 2023 detected PFBA four times in the water system, with the highest detection at 15.6 ppt — 3.1 times above the minimum reporting level.

    Eastern New Mexico Cities found with PFAS

    • Clovis, New Mexico— A sample taken in October 2023 found 4.4 ppt of PFBS — an EPA-regulated PFAS — in the water.
    • Cannon Air Force Base — Seven PFAS chemicals were found in 2023 in several buildings and well water sources throughout the base, two of which are regulated by the EPA and five of which are not currently regulated. PFHxS was the only regulated PFAS found in 2023 to be over the 10 ppt limit, with the highest recording at 17.7 ppt. The other regulated PFAS found was PFBS with the highest detection level being at 11 ppt. All five unregulated PFAS were found to either be at the EPA limit or above the limit.
    • Hobbs, New Mexico — Six PFAS chemicals were found in 2023 tests of the municipal water supply — five of which are unregulated by the EPA. The highest unregulated chemical found was PFPeA at 16.2 ppt — 5.4 times above the EPA minimum reporting level.

    What is the difference between EPA regulated, unregulated PFAS?

    In April 2024, the EPA presented regulations for six PFAS in drinking water. Regulated PFAS must be monitored by public water systems within three years and inform the public of the level of PFAS measured in their drinking water. It also has to implement solutions to reduce the PFAS in the drinking water to levels below the standards within five years.

    Common forever chemicals found in West Texas, Eastern New Mexico

    PFBA — The most common forever chemical found in the West Texas, PFBA — perfluorobutanoic acid —has been found to have the potential for thyroid, liver, and developmental effects in humans, given relevant PFBA exposure conditions, according to a 2022 report from the EPA's Integrated Risk Information System. The EPA has found no links between PFBA causing cancer.

    PFBS — Named Perfluorobutane Sulfonic Acid. EPA animal studies have found that exposure to this forever chemical has been linked to health effects on the thyroid, reproductive organs and tissues, developing fetus, and kidney. The EPA has found no links between PFBS and cancer.

    PFHxS — The EPA is currently reviewing a toxicity assessment of this forever chemical.

    Map: Where water systems reported PFAS contamination

    USA TODAY reporters Austin Fast and Cecilia Garzella contributed to this article.

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