EPA announces drinking water limits for forever chemicals

EPA announces clean water standards for PFAS (forever chemicals)
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  • PFAS are dangerous. These “forever chemicals” are linked to serious health problems including cancer, liver and heart disease, and developmental problems in children.
  • New limits are strict. The EPA is setting strict limits on five common PFAS chemicals in drinking water, with goals of practically eliminating two of the most dangerous ones.
  • Action will take time. Water systems have three years to test for PFAS and five years to reduce levels if they exceed the new standards.
  • Funding is available. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides billions in funding to help water systems, with a focus on disadvantaged communities.

April 11, 2024 — The Biden-Harris Administration and Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday the first-ever federal limits for five specific PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals in drinking water. This is a major move – communities nationwide have been dealing with PFAS contamination and its health implications without these critical standards.

“Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan saidOpens in a new tab..

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a large family of human-made chemicals used in all sorts of products – nonstick pans, stain-resistant clothes, even firefighting foam. They’re nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment.

Unfortunately, PFAS don’t break down in the human body either. Exposure even to low levels of certain PFAS chemicals has been linked to significant health risks.

How Strict Are the Limits?

The EPA’s final rule establishes standards for harmful PFAS substance:

  • PFOA and PFOS (two of the worst): Goals are set at zero exposure. The new enforceable limits are set at 4 parts per trillion, designed to be the lowest levels currently possible for water systems to achieve.
  • Three other PFAS: Limits for PFNA, PFHxS, and “GenX” chemicals are slightly higher at 10 parts per trillion. Even at these levels, they still represent a big decrease in allowable contamination.

What Happens Next.

Change won’t be immediate. Here’s what to expect:

  • Testing: Public water systems have three years to test for the regulated PFAS and let the public know the results.
  • Cleanup: If levels exceed limits, water systems have five years to put treatment in place to reduce PFAS to legal levels.
  • Funding: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has allocated billions to help water systems make needed upgrades, including filtration systems for PFAS.

Details About Funding to Address PFAS in Drinking Water.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA is making an unprecedented $21 billion available to strengthen our nation’s drinking water systems, including by addressing PFAS contamination. Of that, $9 billion is specifically for tackling PFAS and emerging contaminants. The financing programs delivering this funding are part of President Biden’s Justice40 InitiativeOpens in a new tab., which set the goal that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.

Additionally, EPA has a nationwide Water Technical Assistance program to help small, rural, and disadvantaged communities access federal resources by working directly with water systems to identify challenges like PFAS; develop plans; build technical, managerial, and financial capacity; and apply for water infrastructure funding. Learn more about EPA’s Water Technical Assistance programsOpens in a new tab..

Why This Matters.

Most of us have some PFAS in our bodies already. New standards are a significant step in protecting our health, even if it will take some time.  The EPA announcement is a victory for communities impacted by PFAS contamination, such as Fayetteville, North Carolina, where residents have been dealing with heavily contaminated water.  It also aligns with the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals for environmental justice and commitment to improving public health, including cancer prevention.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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