EPA Proposes Federal Limit on Harmful “Forever Chemicals” in Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed on Tuesday to establish a federal limit on the presence of harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water, a long-awaited protection the agency said will save thousands of lives and prevent serious illnesses, including cancer.[0] The proposed regulation, which would apply to six PFAS chemicals, is a major step forward in safeguarding communities from these dangerous contaminants.[1]

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 14,000 man-made chemicals often used to make products resist water, stains and heat.[2] Known as “forever chemicals”, these substances are resistant to natural decomposition, and are associated with cancer, liver issues, thyroid problems, birth defects, kidney disease, reduced immunity, and other severe health issues.[3] The EPA had previously only singled out PFOA and PFOS as warranting federal regulation, but in the three years since, evidence has mounted of those other chemicals’ prevalence and harms, and several states have enacted their own limits.[4]

The proposed regulation, which would apply to six PFAS chemicals, is a major step forward in safeguarding communities from these dangerous contaminants.[1] It would require every municipal water system in the country to test for and limit the presence of the six PFAS chemicals to the lowest level that tests can detect.[5] By some estimates, PFAS are contaminating drinking water for more than 200 million Americans.[2]

The EPA also proposed regulations on four other PFAS chemicals — PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX — in drinking water. The proposal would regulate the cumulative mixture of these chemicals to keep them below a level considered dangerous to human health.[5] Water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.[2]

The agency also proposed a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals.

Though most US companies have phased out manufacturing of PFOS and PFOA, they remain widespread in the environment due to their lack of degradation.[6] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that its proposed PFAS regulations would, in the long run, stop thousands of fatalities and decrease tens of thousands of major PFAS-related sicknesses.[7]

0. “DHEC, riverkeepers share concern over harmful ‘forever chemical' levels in waterways” wpde.com, 14 Mar. 2023, https://wpde.com/news/local/dhec-riverkeepers-share-concern-over-harmful-forever-chemical-levels-in-local-waterways

1. “Environmental Protection Agency proposes 1st federal limits on ‘forever chemicals' in drinking water” WLS-TV, 14 Mar. 2023, https://abc7chicago.com/environmental-protection-agency-epa-proposing-to-limit-forever-chemicals-limiting-toxic-in-drinking-water-pfas/12953442

2. “EPA recommends PFAS drinking water limits lower than Wisconsin rules” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/wisconsin/2023/03/14/epa-recommends-pfas-drinking-water-limits-lower-than-wisconsin-rules/69977215007

3. “EPA sets ‘groundbreaking’ limits on toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water” The Guardian, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/14/epa-drinking-water-limits-pfas-forever-chemicals

4. “Biden EPA launches landmark push to curb ‘forever chemicals' in drinking water” POLITICO, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/03/14/biden-epa-ban-forever-chemicals-drinking-water-00086937

5. “EPA proposes regulations on 6 toxic ‘forever chemicals' chemicals in drinking water” WBUR News, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.wbur.org/news/2023/03/14/toxic-chemicals-water-epa-pfas-regulations-pfoa-pfna-pfhxs-pfbs-genx

6. “US to limit PFAS ‘forever chemicals' in drinking water” BBC, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64955159

7. “EPA proposes first national drinking water standard to address PFAS contamination” CBS News, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pfas-drinking-water-biden-administration-proposes-first-national-standard-contamination/