March 15, 2023 — Forever chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are a class of synthetic chemicals that do not break down in the environment and can persist for decades or even centuries. PFAS are used in a wide range of consumer products, including non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, and food packaging, as well as in industrial applications such as firefighting foam and metal plating.
These chemicals are called “forever” because they are highly resistant to degradation by natural processes such as sunlight, bacteria, and heat. They can accumulate in the environment and in the bodies of animals and humans, leading to potential health and environmental risks. Some studies have linked exposure to PFAS to a range of health effects, including cancer, thyroid disease, and decreased fertility.
Due to their persistence and potential health and environmental risks, PFAS are increasingly regulated by governments around the world. Many countries, including the United States, have taken steps to phase out the use of certain PFAS compounds and limit their presence in drinking water, soil, and food.
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is proposing the first-ever national drinking water standard for PFAS. The proposal will establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS known to occur in drinking water.
“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution. That’s why President Biden launched a whole-of-government approach to aggressively confront these harmful chemicals, and EPA is leading the way forward,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “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. 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.”
Water Online notes the importance of the proposal yesterday: “Today’s announcement by the EPA is historic progress,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “More than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their tap water. Americans have been drinking contaminated water for decades. This proposal is a critical step toward getting these toxic poisons out of our water.”
The proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture. And would require public water systems to use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, to determine if PFAS mixtures pose a potential risk. The public water systems, which include municipal areas, will be required to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards. EPA anticipates that if fully implemented, the rule will, over time, prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.
“No one should ever wonder if the PFAS in their tap water will one day make them sick,” said Clean Cape Fear co-founder Emily Donovan. “We all deserve access to health-protective drinking water. It’s a basic human right. We applaud the Biden EPA for having the courage to do what multiple administrations could not. Today, prayers were answered.”
EPA requests input on the proposal from all stakeholders, including the 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, at www.regulations.gov.
For more information on this proposal, please visit EPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) webpage.