Researchers find ‘forever chemicals’ in West’s water, meth in snow near Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) Researchers based in Las Vegas are finding so-called forever chemicals in water sources across the West and illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine, in the snow, leading scientists to sound the alarm about what the compounds could mean for our health and the environment.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known colloquially as PFAS, are a group of chemicals found in manufactured products.


We won’t be able to get rid of them. It’s there. She’s floating in the water, said Dr. Doug Sims, dean of the College of Southern Nevada’s School of Science, Engineering and Mathematics.

Suppose the first human to come here took a test. Would it all come back to zero, zero, zero, zero? 8 News Now Investigator David Charns asked Sims.

It would be undetectable for all of these chemicals because they’re all man-made or synthetic, Sims said.

ANDVa Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a smaller glass container for experimentation as part of PFAS and drinking water research at the Protection Agency’s Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response environmental protection on February 16, 2023, in Cincinnati. Chemical company 3M announced on Thursday, June 22, 2023 a $10.3 billion deal with US water utilities and agencies on PFAS pollution that will allow them to test and treat drinking water contaminated by these chemicals in perpetuity . (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel, Files)

Since the 1940s, humans have been putting PFAS into the environment with items such as nonstick pots and pans and some plastics. 3M, which makes some products with PFAS, agreed last week to pay more than $10 billion over the next decade to water suppliers who detected the chemicals.

Sims and his students, as well as other CSN researchers and teams across the West, collected samples from rivers and other water sources in 11 states. The search included the Las Vegas Wash, the 12-mile-long canal that moves treated wastewater out of the Las Vegas Valley and into Lake Mead.

We’ve found all kinds of drugs that people are using, Sims said of the research.

In May 2022, the 8 News Now Investigators reported how Sims and CSN students took part in a global study to investigate the effects of pharmaceuticals on the world’s waterways. As part of the project, the team took samples up and down the wash.

Sims’ research found 28 compounds in the wash, including antidepressants, opioids and medications to treat acid reflux, allergies, coughs, diabetes, high blood pressure, muscle spasms, nerve pain and shingles.

The researchers also focused on changes in the detection of some compounds during last years NFL Draft and that year’s Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC).

During EDC and the days afterward, Las Vegas sewage contained a noticeable spike of MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly. The amount of MDMA flowing through the Las Vegas Wash on the Monday after EDC 2022 was 300 times the level recorded before the festival began, research by Sims has found.

During the 2022 NFL Draft, Sims noticed an influx of antidepressants and medications to mitigate high blood pressure and cholesterol. The increase in these chemicals is statistically significant compared to other data compiled weekly, Sims said.

EPA is creating a national standard for PFAS in drinking water. The amount found in some water systems is in parts per trillion. Scientists still don’t know how PFAS gets into the water table or how it affects the human body, the agency said.

CSN’s research has found some PFAS in remote areas almost untouched by humans, leading them to believe that the chemicals have gone through the precipitation cycle forever.

Why is it important to know if these chemicals are present in these water sources? Charns asked Andrea Seifert, the head of Nevada’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water.

It’s important to know about PFAS in our Nevada environment so we can address any concerns and protect the public, Seifert said.

The Las Vegas Wash is a 12-mile long canal, which moves treated wastewater out of the Las Vegas Valley and into Lake Mead. (KLAS)

State researchers have been monitoring PFAS in Nevada for a decade, Seifert said, accelerating with the passage of a bill in 2021 that established a working group for their study. With the chemicals in everything from rainwear to firefighting foam, Seifert said the state is doing its own research and awaiting guidance from the EPA.

We want to know what those levels are, what needs to be done to protect the public and inform them so they can make decisions about the water they drink, he said.

At what point does the number really say: Is this a problem? Charns asked Sims.

Drugs have the potential to be bio-magnified through the system that eventually enters the food web we depend on, Sims said. The enlargement will only get worse in a drought if the Colorado River continues to decline, she said.

We’re finding PFAS and methamphetamines and other drugs actually in the snow, carried on winds, Dr. Doug Sims said of upcoming research at Mt. Charleston. (KLAS)

The amount of water in Colorado today, despite the current year, has decreased dramatically from five to six years ago, so the concentration is increasing in Colorado due to the impact of climate change on the environment, Sims said about of inorganic compounds.

An evolving environment with synthetic chemicals that CSN researchers are discovering in some of the least suspicious places.

We’re finding PFAS and methamphetamines and other drugs actually in the snow, carried on winds, Sims said of upcoming searches at Mt. Charleston.

Nevada received about $20 million from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill to protect sources of drinking water specifically from PFAS.

We must be proactive to ensure that all Nevada citizens have access to clean, safe drinking water that is free of contaminants such as PFAS and other harmful chemicals, Democratic Senator from Nevada Jacky Rosen said at the time of the announcement. This funding, which I helped secure through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, will go to protect our states’ public water systems and the health and well-being of our communities.

This photo provided by the National Wildlife Federation shows a sign warning hunters not to eat deer due to the high amounts of toxic chemicals in their meat, in Oscoda, Michigan March 26, 2021. Wildlife agencies in parts of the country they are finding elevated levels of PFAS chemicals in game animals such as deer, prompting new restrictions on hunting and fishing. (Photo by Drew YoungeDyke, National Wildlife Federation via AP)

The Nevada Legislature passed a bill in this legislative session meant to regulate PFAS, but Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed it, citing upcoming EPA regulations.

While protecting consumers from the potential dangers associated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances is an important goal, [Senate Bill 76] aims to accomplish too much too soon, wrote the governor in his veto message. Waiting for the EPA’s determinations will avoid unnecessary burdens of doing business in Nevada, especially.

EPA was expected to release its PFAS guidelines later this year. The Southern Nevada Water Authority was also awaiting those guidelines.

While PFAS compounds are a recent topic in public dialogue, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been monitoring and researching these potential contaminants for more than a decade, spokesman Bronson Mack said. Based on analyzes from SNWA’s R&D laboratory, Southern Nevada’s water supply is expected to meet EPA’s proposed regulations for PFAS. We will continue to sample, test and monitor PFAS to protect our communities’ tap water.

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