The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday 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, the AP reports. PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, are a group of compounds that are widespread, dangerous, and expensive to remove from water. They don’t degrade in the environment and are linked to a broad range of health issues, including low birthweight and kidney cancer. “The science is clear that long-term exposure to PFAS is linked to significant health risks,” Radhika Fox, assistant EPA administrator for water, said in an interview.
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 nonstick pans, food packaging, and firefighting foam. Their use is now mostly phased out in the US, but some still remain. 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.
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 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. The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators called the proposal “a step in the right direction” but said 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 Tuesday.
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