EPA Proposes Nationwide Restriction on ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water

EPA Restrictions Against Forever Chemicals (Photo: Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed on Tuesday its initial nationwide restrictions on “forever chemicals” in drinking water, driven by findings that these substances pose more significant health risks than previously understood, even at levels undetectable by current standards.

These chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), have been phased out voluntarily by U.S. manufacturers, yet their persistence in the environment and human body remains a concern.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a majority of Americans have been exposed to PFAS, with detectable levels found in their blood.

Since the 1940s, PFAS have been integral to producing waterproof, non-stick, and stain-resistant products like food packaging, cookware, clothing, and firefighting foam.

However, these chemicals have been associated with serious health issues such as certain cancers, liver damage, and low birth weight.

The Environmental Working Group identified 41,828 sites nationwide, including industrial and municipal facilities, known to produce, use, or potentially use PFAS, with increased concentrations in cities like Miami, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

The EPA’s proposed standards target six PFAS contaminants that have contaminated national drinking water supplies. PFOA and PFOS would be regulated individually, while PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX chemicals would be regulated as a mixture.

The proposed drinking water limit is set at four parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS per chemical, with a binding limit based on a hazard index for the other PFAS to address their cumulative impact.

Expected to be finalized by year-end, the EPA anticipates that the regulation, if fully implemented, could prevent numerous deaths and tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses.

EPA Restrictions Against Forever Chemicals (Photo: iStock)

“EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science,” stated EPA Administrator Michael Regan, emphasizing the rule’s potential to guide states in safeguarding their communities.

The regulation mandates public water systems to monitor, notify the public, and mitigate PFAS contamination exceeding the proposed standards.

“This proposal is a necessary and long overdue step in addressing the nation’s PFAS crisis,” said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, an attorney at Earthjustice, underscoring the need for EPA to finalize health-protective limits promptly and address ongoing PFAS contamination in drinking water supplies nationwide.

While the EPA first detected PFAS in drinking water in 2001, setting a nationwide legal limit has been a longstanding challenge. Last year, the agency issued stringent health advisories, replacing earlier guidelines to reflect a near-zero health risk threshold.

Representatives from U.S. chemical companies, including the American Chemistry Council, opposed the designation of PFAS as hazardous by the Biden administration, arguing that the rule would be costly and ineffectual.

Last year, the agency also invited states and territories to apply for $1 billion under the bipartisan infrastructure law to tackle PFAS contamination in drinking water, especially in disadvantaged communities.

The grant funding will support technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of advanced treatment technologies.

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