ALEX CLARK: EPA issues drinking water standards to prevent exposure to 'forever chemicals'

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first of its kind standards for drinking water meant to protect Americans from the harmful and toxic effects of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), better known as “forever chemicals.”

The group of “forever chemicals,” including five individual PFAS: PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA, earned this nickname after it was discovered that these compounds can take thousands of years to break down in the environment. Today, these widely used synthetic compounds have permeated air, water, soil, manufactured products, and even food globally.

Earlier this week, it was reported that excessive concentrations of PFAS have been found in groundwater globally, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience. PFAS “constitute a class of over 14,000 chemicals extensively used in industrial applications and consumer products because of their distinct water and oil repellent properties and high heat tolerance,” the study explains.

“Many of our source waters are above PFAS regulatory limits,” the senior author of the study, UNSW Engineering Professor Denis O’Carroll, said.

In response to the study’s findings, David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, said, “These contaminants have been found in the Arctic, on the slopes of Mount Everest, in penguins, polar bears, whales and seals.”

“These are chemicals that are just incredibly ubiquitous around the globe because of their release by manufacturers and how they have spread into the soil, air and water,” Andrews added.

All known forms of PFAS will be limited under the new drinking water standards. The reduction in exposure to these toxic chemicals, the EPA says, will “prevent thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of serious illnesses, including certain cancers and liver and heart impacts in adults, and immune and development impacts to infants and children.”

The new rule will require utility providers to reduce the presence of PFAS to the lowest levels at which the chemicals can be reliably detected in drinking water. This is the first-ever national and “legally enforceable drinking water standard” ever implemented by the EPA. Many utility suppliers claimed that the rule would force companies to purchase expensive treatment systems, which would in turn raise prices for customers.

To combat rising prices, the EPA announced nearly $1 billion in newly available funding that will be allocated to states to implement PFAS testing and treatment for public water systems. Funds will also be available to owners of private wells to help address current PFAS contamination.

“Exposure to PFAS has been linked to deadly cancers, impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children. This final rule represents the most significant step to protect public health under EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. The final rule will reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses.” -Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Press Release

Environmental lawyer, Rob Bilott, who is world-renowned for his role in uncovering the irresponsible disposal of the hazardous chemical compounds by DuPont, an American multinational chemical company, applauded the EPA’s actions in a press briefing released shortly after the new standards were announced.

“It’s a day I thought I would never see,” Bilott said. “It took us a long time to get here, way too many decades passed. But now we can start moving forward.”

 

This piece first appeared at TPUSA.

Image from Canva


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