For the first time, the US government plans to regulate the presence of “chemicals forever” in drinking water. PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are ubiquitous in the modern world. They are found in many household items, including nonstick Teflon pans and dental floss, and can remain in water and soil for generations. Additionally, PFAS exposure has been linked to a host of health problems, including cancer, liver damage, asthma, and developmental problems in children.
On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed national beverage standard that would require utilities to monitor drinking water for PFAS contamination and notify the public if levels of those chemicals exceed the new standard. The proposal calls for classifying perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) as individual contaminants that water utilities would be required to detect at a level of four parts per billion. Under an Obama-era recommendation, the agency previously recommended that water contain no more than 70 parts per billion of PFAS chemicals. The EPA estimates that the new guidelines will prevent “thousands” of deaths and “tens of thousands” of illnesses attributable to PFAS poisoning.
The EPA proposes the first national standard to limit PFAS in drinking water. This action is an important step to protect communities from PFAS contamination, taking advantage of the latest science and building on existing state efforts to limit PFAS. pic.twitter.com/iBw91oL5Xh
— US EPA (@EPA) March 14, 2023
“EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is based on the best available science and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that better protect their communities,” said the administrator of EPA, Michael Regan, in a statement. “This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks an important step to protect all of our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”
With today’s announcement, EPA will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days before it goes into effect. A handful of states, including New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan and New York, already regulate chemicals on their own. That being said, PFAS water contamination is a national problem. A 2020 study estimated that up to 200 million Americans have been exposed to the chemicals through tap water. More recently, scientists have found polyfluoroalkyl substances in human breast milk.