PFAS – Here’s What You Need to Know

Humankind has a toxic, co-dependent relationship with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are synthetic compounds made up of several carbon-fluorine bonds that are indestructible, unreactive, highly stable, and the strongest chemical bonds in nature. These compounds have been nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ due to their resistance to water, oil, and natural degradation processes. PFAS are a class of over 6,000 compounds and counting, as new forever chemicals continue to be synthesized. PFOA and PFOS are the most commonly studied and tested contaminants in the class and have been “voluntarily phased out by industry” in the United States due to toxicity concerns and widespread contamination. PFAS are found in most Americans’ blood (99.9%) and drinking water (estimated 110 million+ Americans). Industry has created several replacements for PFOA and PFOS they deem as safe alternatives, including GenX and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). However, EPA toxicity assessments found a link between exposure to GenX and PFBS and several adverse health outcomes.

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The Relationship Between Water and Food Insecurity

In order to address the global issue of food insecurity, it is necessary to consider it in the context of water scarcity. According to the USGS, up to 70% of global freshwater resources are used for agricultural irrigation, highlighting the inextricable link between water resources and food production. The United Nations recognized both adequate food and access to clean water as human rights in 1948 and 2010 respectively. Still, this practical recognition has not been translated into a tangible reality.

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A Tale of Two Pandemics

It has been six months since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in the U.S. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has recorded almost 4 million cases and over 140,000 deaths; making the U.S. the worst affected country in the world. Further exacerbating the crisis is the widespread lack of accessibility to the number one prevention method against COVID-19—water.

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How Small-Scale Brownfields Affect Large-Scale Water Infrastructure

The U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA) estimates that upwards of 450,000 active brownfields have been identified in the United States. The definition of a brownfield is, “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” As noted by the EPA, the most common contaminants at these sites include lead, petroleum, and asbestos. Exposure to these chemicals presents significant health risks. Therefore, work is being done to appropriately clean up and redevelop these sites. However, the cost and potential liability associated with brownfields can be an impediment to cleanup, which often stifles the economies in low-income communities and urban centers where brownfields are seen at higher rates.

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Water for Communities

Water has always been a big part of my life. During my childhood in Texas, I spent my time fishing on lakes and eating seafood. I overheard rain forecasts but didn’t realize their importance in filling our lakes, protecting our ecosystems, and driving our agricultural economy. Growing up, basic drinking water access was a privilege, and it is a basic human right that over 785 million people do not have even to this day, especially within marginalized communities.

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From the Ground Up: Lessons in California’s Water Security

Growing up in California, water security has always been a front-page issue. The competing forces of drought and flooding were constant events oscillating between “normal” years. For me and my family, drought was an especially important concern because our house is not connected to the local water lines. Instead we rely on a well and aquifer for all of our water. Though we have been fortunate to never completely run out of water, our pressure has dropped during periods of low flow or drought. We don’t know how much water is in the aquifer at any given time, and because the pump is electric, we lose access when the power goes out during major storms or blackouts (another unique feature of California!).

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Saving Water and Engineering the Future

In the fall I will be returning to North Carolina to finish my final year of undergraduate studies at Duke University. I am majoring in civil engineering with a focus on water resources, as well as obtaining a dance studies minor. All of the opportunities that have been afforded to me so far in undergrad have in some way been related to water. At first, this was just by happenstance, but after a while, water became a topic that I actively sought to understand from both the technical engineering and social impact side. I can now firmly state that my passion lies in the nexus of energy, water, and sustainability.

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Tapping into Water Justice

Water inequity runs through many of my most formative stories, exposing cracks in the world around me. I grew up building fairy houses and preparing tiny feasts of acorn-cap soup using sudsy water from a nearby tributary of the Passaic River. The stream jutted up against a hotel parking lot and served as a dumping ground. From a young age, I didn’t understand why water pollution was tolerable.

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The Supreme Court Rules in Maui : More Litigation in the Forecast

In a much-anticipated ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided one of the most important Clean Water Act cases in three decades. In County of Maui v. Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund, the Court held, for the first time, that in some instances, point source pollution carried indirectly from groundwater to surface water may now require a permit if it meets what the Court has called the “functional equivalent” test. The 6-3 ruling effectively widens environmental protection over navigable waters through the Clean Water Act.

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