EPA Wants Federal Limits on ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water

March 15, 2023 by Dan McCue
EPA Wants Federal Limits on ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water
FILE - Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, announces the Biden administration is launching a broad strategy to regulate toxic industrial compounds associated with serious health conditions that are used in products ranging from cookware to carpets and firefighting foams during an event at N.C. State University, Oct. 18, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing federal limits on toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water, a move the Biden administration believes will prevent serious illness and death for thousands of Americans each year.

PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of compounds that have become known colloquially as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down and persist in the environment, seeping into soil and water.

For years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they have been linked to a broad range of health issues, ranging from increased cholesterol levels and decreased vaccine response in children to kidney and testicular cancer.

Unfortunately, for decades they were also a key ingredient in a tremendous range of consumer products, including nonstick pans, food packaging and firefighting foam, and they were often used in manufacturing processes.

Though their use has now been mostly curtailed in the U.S., some uses remain. For instance, as recently reported by The Well News, they are still found in firefighting equipment.

The proposal, if finalized, would set strict limits of four parts per trillion, the lowest level that can be reliably measured, for two common types of PFAS compounds called PFOA and PFOS. 

In addition, the EPA wants to regulate four other types of PFAS: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX Chemicals, as a mixture. 

Water systems across the country will then be tasked with monitoring PFAS in the water they make available to the public using a “hazard index calculation” defined in the proposed rule.

“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a written statement.

“EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities,” he continued.

“This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants,” Regan said.

Now that it has released its proposal, the EPA is seeking comments from the general public, water system managers and public health professionals.

Comments may be submitted through the public docket, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114, here.

Any changes to the proposal based on those comments will be incorporated into a final rule, which is expected to be published by the end of the year.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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