How Do PFAS Add to Environmental Injustice?

Published Nov 6, 2023


How Do PFAS Add to Environmental Racism? [a color photo depicts a grassy field in front of a full parking lot, with industrial infrastructure in the background. A sign in the foreground reads "Dupont. Washington Water Works."]

DuPont settled with residents exposed to extensive PFAS contamination from their Washington Works plant in nearby Parkersburg, West Virginia in 2004 and 2017. U.S. Census data showed a 21.7 percent poverty rate for Parkersburg as of 2021, well above the national average of 11.5 percent.1U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. Available at PHOTO: Snoopywv — CC-BY-SA 3.0-Wikimedia Commons

Low-income residents and communities of color are more likely to bear the toxic and economic burden of the government’s lack of responsiveness to chemical exposure. Community water systems serving higher proportions of people of color are associated with having more sources of PFAS contamination (such as airports, industrial facilities, landfills, military sites, and wastewater treatment plants). They are also more likely to have PFAS concentrations above detectable limits or state-level standards.2Liddie, Jahred M. et al. “Sociodemographic factors are associated with the abundance of PFAS sources and detection in U.S. community water systems.” Environmental Science & Technology. Vol. 57. May 2023 at abstract. This reflects the historical disparity in the siting of toxic facilities and the disproportionate reach of their emissions.3Mikati, Ihab et al. “Disparities in distribution of particulate matter emission sources by race and poverty status.” American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 108, No. 4. April 2018 at abstract and e4. Households living with the reality of PFAS exposure are left to bear the health and economic burdens while polluters are generally let off the hook.4Cordner, Alissa et al. “The true cost of PFAS and the benefits of acting now.” Environmental Science & Technology. Vol. 55. 2021 at 9631.