EPA Goes After Forever Chemicals in Your Water

Biden administration sets new, enforceable drinking water standards
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2024 7:41 AM CDT
EPA Goes After Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water
Eva Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a smaller glass container for experimentation as part of drinking water and PFAS research at the US Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response on Feb. 16, 2023, in Cincinnati.   (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel, File)

In what some are calling a "huge breakthrough," the Biden administration on Wednesday laid out the first national standard to limit "forever chemicals" in drinking water. These long-lasting chemicals, found in the blood of nearly every American, help nonstick cookware, outdoor furniture, disposable packaging, and other products repel water and oil but are also linked to cancer, heart and liver damage, fertility problems, and other issues. In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency warned they are likely much more dangerous than previously believed. People are exposed through a wide variety of products, even dust. But Dr. David Andrews, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, estimates at least 20% of exposure comes through drinking water, per CNN.

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS chemicals, a group of thousands of individual types of synthetic substances known as forever chemicals, contaminate nearly 50% of tap water in the US, according to a recent study by the US Geological Survey. A few states have passed laws requiring water utilities to look for and filter out the chemicals, but the new federal standard, setting limits for just six of the chemicals, will reduce PFAS exposure for some 100 million people, the administration says. Dr. Anna Reade, director of PFAS advocacy at environmental group NRDC, calls it a "huge breakthrough," per CNN. "This action will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses," EPA Administrator Michael Regan says, per Politico.

Utilities will have three years to test for the chemicals and inform the public of the results, plus two years to install the necessary filtering systems. They must limit detectable levels of PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and HFPO-DA (GenX) to 4 to 10 parts per trillion depending on the chemical, per Politico and CNN. The administration estimates between 6% and 10% of US water systems will need new filtering systems, which will likely remove other contaminants as well. However, the American Chemistry Council argues the cost will be at least triple the EPA estimate of $1.5 billion annually. The administration is offering $1 billion in new infrastructure funding to assist with testing and treatment of public water systems and private wells. (More forever chemicals stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.