The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S has proposed the first federal limits on harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water, a long-awaited protection the agency said will save thousands of lives and prevent serious illnesses, including cancer.
The plan would limit toxic PFAS chemicals to the lowest level that tests can detect. PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, are a group of compounds that are widespread, dangerous and expensive to remove from water. They do not degrade in the environment and are linked to a broad range of health issues, including low birth weight and kidney cancer.
Radhika Fox, Assistant EPA Administrator for water, divulged in an interview, “The science is clear that long-term exposure to PFAS is linked to significant health risks.”
Fox called the federal proposal a “transformational change” for improving the safety of drinking water in the United States. The agency estimates the rule could reduce PFAS exposure for nearly 100 million Americans, decreasing rates of cancer, heart attacks and birth complications.
The chemicals had been used since the 1940s in consumer products and industry, including in non-stick pans, food packaging and firefighting foam. Their use is now mostly phased out in the U.S., but some still remain.
The proposal would set strict limits of 4 parts per trillion, the lowest level that can be reliably measured, for two common types of PFAS compounds called PFOA and PFOS.
In addition, the EPA wants to regulate the combined amount of four other types of PFAS. Water providers will have to monitor for PFAS.
The agency said its proposal will protect everyone, including vulnerable communities, and reduce illness on a massive scale. The EPA wants water providers to do testing, notify the public when PFAS are found and remove the compounds when levels are too high.
The public will have a chance to comment, and the agency can make changes before issuing a final rule, expected by the end of the year.
A Step In The Right Direction
The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators called the proposal “a step in the right direction” however, they pointed out that compliance will be challenging.
Despite available federal money, “significant rate increases will be required for most of the systems” that must remove PFAS, the group said.
Environmental and public health advocates have called for federal regulation of PFAS chemicals for years. Over the last decade, the EPA has repeatedly strengthened its protective, voluntary health thresholds for the chemicals but has not imposed mandatory limits on water providers.
Public concern has increased in recent years as testing reveals PFAS chemicals in a growing list of communities that are often near manufacturing plants or Air Force bases.
Until now, only a handful of states have issued PFAS regulations, and none has set limits as strict as what the EPA is proposing. By regulating PFOA and PFOS at the minimum amounts that tests can detect, the EPA is proposing the tightest possible standards that are technically feasible, experts said.
Melanie Benesh, Vice President of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, expressed, “This is a really historic moment.”
“There are many communities that have had PFAS in their water for decades who have been waiting for a long time for this announcement to come out.”Melanie Benesh
Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, which advocates for cleaning up a PFAS-contaminated stretch of North Carolina, opined that it was important to make those who released the compounds into the environment pay clean-up costs.
The EPA recently made $2 billion available to states to get rid of contaminants such as PFAS and will release billions more in coming years.
Also, the agency is providing technical support to smaller communities that will soon be forced to install treatments systems, and there is funding in the 2021 infrastructure law for water system upgrades.
Nonetheless, it will be expensive for utilities to install new equipment, and the burden will be especially tough for small towns with fewer resources.
READ ALSO: Biden To Sign Executive Order On Firearm Background Checks
Leave a Reply