EPA Proposes Landmark Rules to Reduce ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a landmark proposal this week to curb “forever chemicals” in drinking water, which could affect up to 100 million Americans.[0] A proposed regulation would set a maximum of 4 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most commonly found PFAS chemicals, in drinking water. This is a significant reduction from the level the EPA suggested was safe as recently as 2016, when the agency put out a health advisory that suggested 70 parts per trillion as a maximum level for those types of PFAS in drinking water.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan stated in a prepared statement that this action could potentially stop tens of thousands of PFAS-related diseases and is a huge stride forward in protecting all of our communities from these hazardous pollutants.[1]

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of thousands of man-made chemicals that have been used in manufacturing and consumer products since the 1940s.[2] Known as “forever chemicals,” these substances are not biodegradable, and thus, when absorbed by humans, animals, and the environment, can accumulate over long periods of time.[3]

It is estimated that around 200 million Americans consume water contaminated with PFAS chemicals, which have been linked to a range of health issues, including cancer.[2]

Under the proposed rule, water utilities must ensure that both PFOS and PFOA are present in concentrations of no more than 4 parts per trillion. The EPA has stated that there is no safe level of contamination in drinking water, even if it is at the lowest level which modern technology can detect.[4]

The EPA has opened up the proposed ruling to public comment and may make changes before the final ruling is issued by the end of 2020.[5]

Manufacturer 3M recently announced it would stop making them by the end of 2025.[6] More than eight years ago, the American Chemistry Council (an association that represents chemical makers) reported that their members had phased out the production of PFOA and PFOS.[7] In an email to CNN, the council declared their support for restrictions on the use of PFOA and PFOS worldwide, and for drinking water standards based on the most current scientific data.[8] The EPA's rule is labeled as “conservative”, yet it has been noted that there are “serious concerns” about the science that was used to develop it.[9]

0. “EPA launches radical $800m landmark proposal to curb ‘forever chemicals' in drinking water” Daily Mail, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-11859223/EPA-launches-landmark-proposal-curb-forever-chemicals-drinking-water.html

1. “U.S. EPA proposes enforceable drinking water limits for PFAS, also known as forever chemicals” cleveland.com, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.cleveland.com/news/2023/03/us-epa-proposes-enforceable-drinking-water-limits-for-pfas-also-known-as-forever-chemicals.html

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

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. “EPA seeks lower PFAS drinking water standard: What it means for Michigan” Bridge Michigan, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-environment-watch/epa-seeks-lower-pfas-drinking-water-standard-what-it-means-michigan

5. “EPA proposes strict limits to cancer-causing ‘forever' chemicals in drinking water” New York Daily News, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ny-epa-pfas-forever-chemicals-limits-drinking-water-20230314-p4alukm5h5e5peqchae44avefe-story.html

6. “EPA moves to limit toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water” Axios, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/03/14/epa-forever-chemicals-drinking-water-limits

7. “EPA proposes standards to make drinking water safer from PFAS” CBS Minnesota, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/minnesota/news/epa-proposes-standards-to-make-drinking-water-safer-from-pfas/

8. “EPA to Finally Limit Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals' Widespread in Drinking Water” VICE, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.vice.com/en/article/n7ejxb/epa-to-finally-limit-toxic-forever-chemicals-widein-drinking-water

9. “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