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OCT 18, 2022

Nationwide PFAS Study Reveals Shockingly High Contamination in Orange County

  • First-of-its-kind study by Waterkeeper Alliance found 83% of the waters tested across the country were contaminated by dangerous PFAS chemicals.
  • Orange County’s San Diego Creek contained the highest levels of PFAS among the West Coast sample sites.

Orange County, CA — Today, October 18, 2022, Waterkeeper Alliance released a groundbreaking new analysis of American waterways that sounds the alarm on a PFAS pollution emergency.

In a test of 114 waterways from across the country, 83% were found to contain at least one type of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These dangerous chemicals have been linked to serious public health and environmental impacts.

San Diego Creek in Orange County contained the highest levels of PFAS concentrations of all the sample sites on the West Coast. In total, fifteen different PFAS compounds were found in detectable quantities.

The table below shows that San Diego Creek’s surface water contained high levels of PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). Compared to the EPA’s interim drinking water health advisories released in June, the difference is astronomical.

*All numbers in ppt (parts per trillion).
**The numbers in red indicate surface water samples that exceed the EPA’s drinking water advisory levels.

Nationally, this data plainly demonstrates that Congress and EPA must act with urgency to control persistent PFAS contamination across the country. Many drinking water utilities and wastewater treatment plants are poorly equipped to cope with the onslaught of these chemicals and require financial assistance as upgrades required for removal are extremely expensive. The current lack of national oversight puts the health and safety of communities and ecosystems across the nation at risk and results in costly cleanup and treatment activities to remove PFAS contamination after it has occurred.

Locally, California and Orange County have been leaders on this issue, but more work still needs to be done. Orange County Water District has at least four PFAS treatment facilities in operation, with several more scheduled for construction. In addition, the University of California, Irvine is leading a PFAS health study with residents who live in Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange, and Yorba Linda.

Background on PFAS

Since at least the 1950s, PFAS have been widely used in manufacturing and are found in many consumer, commercial, and industrial products. Common sources are non-stick cookware, waterproof garments, food wrappers with stainproof coating, and firefighting foams.

Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS do not break down over time. Instead, these dangerous chemicals accumulate in people, wildlife, and the environment. As a result, PFAS have been found in surface water, air, soil, food, and many commercial materials. Scientific studies increasingly link these toxic chemicals to serious health conditions such as cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions.

Despite serious health risks, there are currently no universal, science-based limits on the various PFAS chemicals in the United States. For many PFAS chemicals, the EPA has not even set a health advisory limit that would give the public a baseline to determine what amount of PFAS is unhealthy in drinking water. In most cases, the EPA is not doing adequate monitoring for these chemicals, which is why these findings are so unique and important.


“When we began testing waterways for PFAS earlier this year, we knew that our country had a significant PFAS problem, but these findings confirm that was an understatement. This is a widespread public health and environmental crisis that must be addressed immediately by Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To begin tackling this urgent problem, Congress should start by passing the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act of 2022, and EPA must prioritize using the funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to coordinate national monitoring and adopt regulatory standards for PFAS contamination. This report provides the information necessary for federal and state governments to take action and protect the health and safety of our communities,” said Marc Yaggi, CEO of Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Our goal with this surface water sampling project is to raise awareness around PFAS pollution with the public. We want Orange County residents to be as informed as possible regarding critical issues impacting their water,” said Ray Hiemstra, Associate Director of Programs at Orange County Coastkeeper. “Local water districts are already aware this is a problem and have begun to deal with it. The high levels of PFOA and PFOS we found in San Diego Creek are an indicator of the seriousness of this pollutant in Orange County.”


 Orange County Coastkeeper is a member of the International Waterkeeper Alliance, which has 241 different independent programs across 40 countries. Founded in 1999, the mission of Coastkeeper is to protect and promote sustainable water resources that are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Coastkeeper is a nonprofit clean water organization that serves as a proactive steward of our fresh- and saltwater ecosystems. We work collaboratively with diverse groups in the public and private sectors to achieve healthy, accessible, and sustainable water resources for the region. We implement innovative, effective programs in education, advocacy, restoration, research, enforcement, and conservation. For more information, visit or call 714-850-1965.