EPA Takes Historic Action to Limit PFAS in Drinking Water

In a historic move, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the first-ever national regulation limiting the number of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Commonly known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are synthetic chemicals that can take thousands of years to break down in the environment and have been linked to various health issues. The new regulation aims to reduce PFAS exposure for 100 million people and prevent numerous deaths and illnesses.

5 Key Points:

  1. The EPA has issued the first-ever national regulation limiting the amount of PFAS in drinking water.
  2. Public water utilities must test for six types of PFAS chemicals to reduce exposure.
  3. The new standards aim to reduce PFAS exposure for 100 million people and prevent health issues.
  4. The EPA provides $1 billion to states and territories for PFAS testing and treatment.
  5. Critics argue that the EPA should regulate PFAS as a whole class of chemicals.

The New Regulation

The EPA’s new regulation requires public water utilities to test for six different types of PFAS chemicals to reduce exposure in drinking water. According to the EPA, there is no safe level of exposure to PFAS without risk of health impacts. The agency estimates that of the 66,000 public water utility systems impacted by the standard, 6% to 10% may need to act to comply with the regulations.

Water utility operators will have three years to test for PFAS pollution and an additional two years to identify, purchase, and install the necessary technology to treat contaminated water. The EPA makes $1 billion available to states and territories to implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems as part of a $9 billion investment made possible by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Health Impacts of PFAS

PFAS have been used since the 1940s and are famous for their ability to repel oil and water and resist heat. However, research confirms that exposure to certain levels of PFAS in the environment can cause a range of health issues, including:

  • Reproductive problems, such as decreased fertility
  • Developmental delays in children and low birth weight
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Impacts to the cardiovascular system
  • Certain types of cancer, particularly kidney and testicular cancer

According to Dr. Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Sciences, evidence is growing for several other forms of cancer linked to PFAS exposure.

Criticism and Challenges

While the new regulation is a significant step in addressing PFAS contamination, critics argue that the EPA needs to go further. With more than 15,000 PFAS chemicals in existence, the standard only regulates six. Dr. Birnbaum suggests that the EPA needs to begin addressing PFAS as a whole class of chemicals and question whether they are truly necessary.

Implementing the new regulations will come at a cost to water utility companies, estimated at around $1.5 billion. However, Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director of health at the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Despite knowing the risks for several years, it has taken a significant amount of time to regulate PFAS on the federal level due to political opposition from the chemical industry and some water utilities. The new regulations do little to hold polluters accountable for the damage PFAS have done to the environment and human health, although there have been several major settlements in recent years by chemical companies over PFAS contamination.

Protecting Yourself from PFAS

If you want to limit your exposure to PFAS in drinking water, you can:

  1. Ask your water utility how it is testing for the chemicals.
  2. Have your water tested by a state-certified laboratory using EPA-testing standards.
  3. Purchase technologies to filter PFAS from your home water source.
  4. Consult running lists to track which companies have banned PFAS from their products.

The EPA’s groundbreaking regulation on PFAS in drinking water is a significant step towards protecting public health and the environment. While challenges and criticisms remain, the new standards will reduce PFAS exposure for millions of people and prevent numerous health issues. As the regulation is implemented, it is crucial for individuals to stay informed and take steps to limit their exposure to these “forever chemicals.”