EPA Proposes Limit on “Forever Chemicals” from Drinking Water

March 14, 2023

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed limiting so-called “forever chemicals” in U.S. drinking water to the lowest level that testing can detect.

In a statement, the Biden Administration announced “the first-ever national drinking water standard for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS),” also known as “forever chemicals.”

These are chemicals that have been used since the 1940s in such products as non-stick pans, food packaging, water-repellant sports gear, stain-resistant carpeting and cosmetics. They don’t degrade in the environment and are linked to a broad range of health issues, including low birthweight babies and kidney cancer. The EPA says they pose a risk even at low levels.

In December, the manufacturing giant 3M was the latest of several corporations to announce it would be voluntarily phasing out its use of PFAS. However, the chemicals have remained in limited use. 

Recently the EPA allocated $2 billion to states to rid their water of contaminants such as PFAS as part of the funding from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The EPA is also providing support to smaller communities to install new water treatment systems. 

EPA administrator for water Radhika Fox called Tuesday’s proposal a “transformational change” in improving the safety of drinking water in the U.S. The agency estimates its new limits could potentially reduce PFAS exposure for nearly 100 thousand Americans, thus cutting cancer rates, heart attacks and birth complications. 

The proposal would set strict limits of 4 parts per trillion—the lowest level that can be measured reliably—for two common types of PFAS compounds called PFOA and PFOS. The EPA also wants to regulate the combined amounts of four other types of PFAS and is ordering water providers to monitor for the chemicals. 

The public will have a chance to comment, and the EPA might make changes to its proposal before issuing a final rule, which is expected by the end of the year, giving water providers time to adjust.

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