EPA action boosts grassroots momentum to reduce toxic 'forever chemicals' in Chattanooga area, elsewhere

The Oostanaula and Etowah rivers meet in Rome, Georgia, near the bridge seen here. Six years ago, Rome officials were forced to switch the city's water supply from the Oostanaula to the Etowah. The city is among 10 North Georgia communities where PFAS chemicals have been found in drinking water supplies at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency declares is safe. (Andy Miller/KHN)

ROME, Ga. - The intake pumps that once drew 6 million gallons of water a day from the Oostanaula River now sit mostly dormant in this northwestern Georgia city.

Local officials contend that years of contamination miles upstream sent toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, into Rome's water supply, rendering it potentially dangerous for the city's roughly 37,000 residents. A water source switch from the Oostanaula and added treatment have reduced the traces of the chemicals running through residents' taps, but they have not eliminated PFAS from the community's water supply.

Test results like those that found contamination in Rome have echoed in communities across the nation as researchers and regulators grapple with concerns over the implications of consuming the ubiquitous chemicals. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is accelerating the debate.