If finalized, the agency’s rule will require public water systems to reduce PFAS contamination levels if they exceed the lowest levels tests can detect.
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals used in various products that do not break down easily in the environment — AKA "forever chemicals." Reports suggest that "forever chemicals" are associated with health conditions like cancer and disrupted biological processes in children.
In addition, estimates indicate that 200 million people in the United States have drinking water with PFAS that exceeds safe levels.
On March 14, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a national drinking water standard for six "forever chemicals." The proposal would regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at four parts per trillion and establish limits on the combined amount of four other toxic PFAS chemicals.
The new proposed limits come after the EPA issued health advisories for PFAS in June 2022, indicating that some adverse health effects may occur with PFOA or PFOS concentrations in drinking water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect.
In a news release, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan says, "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."Michael S. Regan
However, the regulation would require public water systems to monitor levels of "forever chemicals" and lower those levels if they exceed the new limits.
In a statement, Robert F. Powelson, president of the National Association of Water Companies, says U.S. regulated water companies have been working to control PFAS even before the EPA’s proposed rule.
"Make no mistake – addressing the PFAS in the nation’s water supply will cost billions of dollars. It’s a burden that under the current structure will disproportionately fall on water and wastewater customers in small communities and low-income families," he says.
Powelson also suggests that polluters should bear the financial burden of cleanup costs, not water and wastewater customers and utilities.
However, the $550 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) passed in 2021 earmarked $10 billion in funding to address emerging contaminants. In February 2023, the EPA announced that $2 billion of those funds are available to combat PFAS in drinking water and promote safe and clean water access in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities.
Before the EPA finalizes its rule later this year, the agency requests that water system managers, public health professionals, and the public submit their input on the proposed regulations through Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114 at www.regulations.gov.