The US Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesdaysuggestedthe first national drinking water standard for harmful "permanent chemicals". The move could radically affect drinking water for almost everyone in the United States.
The new rule aims to establish drinking water standards for six perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or "Forever Chemicals." PFAS area family of ubiquitous synthetic chemicalsthey persist in the environment and in the human body, where they can cause serious health problems.
Although there are thousands of PFAS chemicals out there, theNational Health InstituteUnder the rule, water systems would have to monitor six specific chemicals, notify the public of PFAS levels, and work to reduce them when levels exceed the allowable standard.
"I'm pleased to report that the EPA is taking another bold step to protect public health," Michael Regan, US Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said at a news conference in Wilmington, North Carolina on Tuesday. “My friends, this is a tremendous step in the right direction. We expect this rule, when fully implemented, to prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-related illnesses."
Regan said the proposed rule would protect people's health for generations. He called PFAS contamination "one of the most pressing environmental and public health problems in the modern world."
The agency chose these chemicals because it has the clearest scientific evidence on their effects on human health, and said it is reviewing other chemicals as well.
The EPA's proposed limits set the allowable levels for these chemicals so low that they cannot be easily detected.
The proposal would regulate two chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to 4 parts per trillion (ppt). For the chemicals PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX, the EPA does not propose a standard for each, but a limit value for a combination of them.
Water systems would need to determine if levels of these PFAS posed a potential risk. They may need to install treatment or take other steps to reduce PFAS levels, the agency said, and systems may also need to be switched to other water sources.
Found in homes across the country.
The suggestion would be one of the firstnew chemical standardsupdating the Safe Drinking Water Act 1996. The proposed standards would be much stricter than those of the EPAproposed in 2016, when their health advice recommended PFAS concentrations in drinking water of no more than 70 ppt.
In June, based on the latest scientific evidence, the EPAissued health noticesThat being said, the chemicals are far more dangerous to human health than scientists originally thought, and are likely more dangerous even if they are thousands of times lower than previously thought.
Immediately after taking office in 2021, EPA Commissioner Regan established the EPA Council on PFAS.
"Despite the previous administration's anti-scientific stance, which put a severe strain on EPA's financial and human capital, I have tasked this board with carefully examining the problem and finding solutions that we can implement immediately," said Regan.
In October 2021, the EPA released its strategic roadmap for PFAS. In November, EPA released a year-long progress report and set an internal deadline to propose that rule late last year, but the proposal was subject to interagency scrutiny.
Now that the proposed rule has expired, it will be open for a public comment period. EPA will consider those comments and make a final decision on the rule, expected later this year.
Public water systems generally have three years from the date of the regulation to comply, the agency said.
The chemicals have been used extensively in hundreds of types of household items since the 1940s, where they help repel water and oil. They are found in water-repellent clothing, furniture and carpets, in non-stick pans, paints, cosmetics, detergents and food packaging, and in fire-fighting foams.
The extremely strong elemental bonds that make the chemicals oil and water repellent also make them more difficult to break down in the body or in the environment.
And in 2019learnsuggested that PFAS chemicals can be found in 98% of the US population.
The chemicals can settle primarily in the blood, kidneys, and liver, and exposure can lead to serious health problems such as cancer, obesity, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, reduced fertility, liver damage, and hormone suppression.EPA sea.
Last year, theNational Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicinehas issued guidelines for physicians to test, diagnose, and treat the millions of people who have been exposed to these chemicals in the past.
attempts at regulation
The manufacture of PFAS chemicals has already started to change.
Manufacturer3M recently announced thiswould cease production at the end of 2025. The American Chemistry Council, an association that represents chemical manufacturers, said its members stopped producing PFOA and PFOS more than eight years ago. "We support restrictions on their use worldwide and support drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS based on the best available science," the council said in an email to CNN. However, he says he has "serious concerns" about the science the EPA used to create the rule, which he calls "conservative."
At the federal level, the US Food and Drug Administration has eliminated the use of certain substancesPFAS chemicals in 2016. The FDA and manufacturers also agreed in 2020 to phase out some PFAS chemicals from food packaging and other food contact items. However, environmental monitoring by the FDA showed that the chemicals tend to stay there, as the name suggests, "forever."
A replacement that many chemical companies use, GenX, canalso be problematic according to the EPA.Animal studies have shown that it affects the liver, kidneys and immune system and can be linked to cancer.
In June,For the first time, the EPA issued final drinking water exposure limits for GenX, considered a surrogate for PFOA, and PFBS, a surrogate for PFOS: less than 10 ppt and 2,000 ppt, respectively.
The Biden administration has taken some steps to eliminate exposure to this contamination. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2022 has allocated $10 billion to clean up contaminants like PFAS in drinking water.
In February,EPAalso announced that $2 billion will be available to address contaminants such as PFAS in drinking water in small, rural and disadvantaged communities.Regan said the Biden administration is asking Congress for more resources to clean up PFAS contamination.
Environmental organizations welcome the initiative
Tuesday's announcement "is truly historic and long overdue," said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group.,an environmental research and advocacy group. “There are many communities that have been exposed to these chemicals for decades.
"It's clear that these chemicals are toxic at very low levels, and the EPA is responding to that risk, and I think this is a huge public health victory," he added.
A new rule, along with real resources to clean up contamination and ensure communities can test for these chemicals, is an important step, said Sarah Doll, national director ofsafer states, a group dedicated to helping communities avoid harm from hazardous chemicals.
"We also need the perpetrators who actually caused the damage in order to pay for the clean-up," said Doll. 17 Attorneys General and others are now suing various manufacturers and users of these chemicals. “This is the first step. It is great. It's really important and we're going to need additional resources, especially from those who did damage."
The EPA is catching up with the proposed rule10 statesthat have applicable drinking water standards for these chemicals: Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
“We are very pleased that the administration is pushing ahead with these steps. They represent a very positive step in the right direction," said Liz Hitchcock, Federal politician forToxic-free future, a group that advocates the use of safer products and chemicals.
But no single EPA water standard will solve the problem. Manufacturers of items using these chemicals urgently need to find alternatives.
"We will continue to contaminate our drinking water if we don't stop using these chemicals," Hitchcock said.
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The Association of Municipal Water Authorities (CLOTHING), which represents the United States' largest state water utilities, said it was reviewing the proposed rule to assess the analysis the EPA used to determine what to regulate and at what levels. He criticized the shorter 60-day period for public comment, the federal government saidOffice of Administration and BudgetHe has had five months to review the proposed rule, which has thousands of pages to review and is a complex regulation.
"AMWA intends to provide the EPA with a robust set of comments to help strengthen the rule and ensure decisions are made based on the best available science, taking into account costs, as required by the Water Act. Safe Drinking," said Tom Dobbins, AMWA Managing Director.
Dobbins added that the association is concerned about the total cost of operation and maintenance and the quantified capital drinking water companies will need to raise to comply with the proposal, which the association estimates the EPA at $772 million. The estimate is the cost per year, according to the EPA.
There are $1.2 billion in annual cost savings based on public health benefits "that are often overlooked in cost talks," the EPA said in an email to CNN.
AMWA said it will work with experts to determine whether the EPA's cost-benefit analysis is accurateIn generalit is precisely.
"Ultimately, without further government support to upgrade current treatment technologies, average Americans will have to pay for additional treatment through higher tariffs on their water," Dobbins added.
Users also have to curb demand. In one case, the US Department of Defense has established a timeline for removing PFASFire fighting foamfor October and stop using itfor october2024. Hundreds of military properties were contaminated by foam used to extinguish kerosene fires.
The proposal is now open for public comment before the standards are finalized.
Meanwhile, people who want to make their water safer can use point-of-entry or point-of-use filters with activated carbon or reverse osmosis membranes, which have been shown to be effective in removing PFAS from water.says the EPA.