Atlanta

Georgia researchers work to remove harmful forever chemicals from water

ATLANTA — Your tap water could be filled with a major health hazard called forever chemicals.

Federal researchers drilled down to the most contaminated taps in metro Atlanta.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi learned how Georgia scientists are trying to protect families.

Tap water first goes through a water treatment plant before coming out of your faucet.

New research shows forever chemicals, known as PFAS, are so prevalent that even treated water is at risk.

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“I can’t drink my water. It got an odor to it,” said a woman Choi talked to in Griffin.

Like a lot of metro Atlantans, she buys her water instead of using what comes out of her tap.

“It scares me,” she explained.

“Because it has the chemicals in it. And I don’t want to give it to my family,” consumer Natasha Dixie said.

Chemicals like PFAS which are man-made forever chemicals are used in hundreds of products including stain and water-resistant fabrics, non-stick pots and pans, food containers and makeup.

“They are robust. They don’t easily degrade,” said Jack Huang, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Georgia.

What is happening in a University of Georgia lab in Griffin could save lives by cleaning the PFAS out of the water we drink and use.

“These chemicals can be harmful to human health,” Huang said.

Scientists say even limited exposure to PFAS can lead to all sorts of ailments including cancer.

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It’s such a concern, that President Joe Biden charged the EPA to regulate the amount of six out of thousands of known PFAS chemicals in our drinking water.

“There are over 10,000 of them now,” Huang said.

He is leading a team at UGA to find ways to get rid of PFAS using a federal grant.

“We’re hoping to boost our treatment technologies,” Huang said.

The team collected samples from wastewater treatment plants and tested them for PFAS.

They used various methods to try and remove PFAS from the samples, including filters, chemicals, and electric shocks.

“We know it is a forever chemical. And so, we’re trying to figure out ways to get rid of it within the treatment plants,” said Gary Hawkins, an associate professor at UGA.

Eventually, treated wastewater ends up back in the environment, where we get our drinking water.

“And if the treatment technologies are not in the water treatment plant, it would be in that water treatment plant,” Hawkins said.

The United States Geological Survey found plenty of PFAS in our nation’s tap water.

The USGS sent kits to volunteers across the country to test for 32 kinds of PFAS.

“We found PFAS in about 45% of tap water across the U.S.,” said Kelly Smalling, a research hydrologist with the USGS.

Georgia had fairly low levels. Some areas had one to three types of PFAS detected compared to other states with 7-9 detected.

“Georgia’s definitely not a hotspot. We did identify hotspots across the U.S. Those tended to be in the Northeast, the Great Lakes area, as well and central and southern California,” Smalling said.

The study showed PFAS levels trended higher in urban areas with high industrial activity.

But for many Georgia families, even a small amount is too much risk.

“I don’t use water from the tap. Never,” consumer Stephanie Amir said.

UGA scientists say they hope to have models in use at water treatment plants in the near future.

The project is set to wrap up in August of 2024. However, it could take years of more research to find the right solution to effectively filter or destroy the forever chemicals.

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