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USGS reports 'forever chemicals' in South Dakota tap water

Kealey Bultena
A new USGS study found PFAS chemicals in several South Dakota wells.

A United States Geological Survey team has detected ‘forever chemicals’ in multiple private wells in South Dakota.

The study is the first at a federal level to test public and private water sources for PFAS contaminants. Three private wells in the state tested positive for elevated levels of PFAS contamination.

According to the USGS, chemicals known by the acronym PFAS, or per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, have been detected at concerning levels in the state.

Common uses for PFAS include fast-food boxes, non-stick cookware, and firefighting foams. According to theEPA, high concentrations of PFAS can lead to health risks for humans and animals.

Weston Weber is a public affairs specialist with USGS. He said it may be up to local public officials to develop PFAS chemical regulations.

“There are currently no federal PFAS regulations, but the EPA has issued health advisories for some PFAS compounds. In addition, on March 14, the EPA announced a proposal to establish legally enforceable federal levels for six PFAS known to occur in drinking water,” said Weber.

USGS had over 700 volunteers across the United States who tested their tap water between 2016 and 2021 for the study.

Most water systems tested in the state were located on or near Native American Reservations. USGS conducted tests on 10 public supply and 26 private supply water systems.

In these test, three private wells tested at higher than EPA accepted PFAS levels.

Of the three confirmed private well contaminations in the state, the sample from a resident in Dewey County had the highest levels of PFAS. The other private wells with positive samples were located in Jackson and Ziebach counties.

Kelly Smalling is a Research Hydrologist with USGS and the study’s lead author. She said the study is concerning.

“The study estimates that at least one type of PFAS – of those that were monitored – could be present in nearly half of the tap water in the U.S. Furthermore, PFAS concentrations were similar between public supplies and private wells,” said Smalling.   

Previous knowledge of PFAS drinking water contamination in the state is known to have occurred near Ellsworth Airforce Base. The USGS study is believed to be the first to confirm these ‘forever chemicals’ in private water sources.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.