EPA Imposes First Limits on ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water

The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled the first-ever national drinking water standard imposing limits on so-called forever chemicals that public water systems will have to implement.The Environmental Protection Agency said the move would protect communities from harmful per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—toxic synthetic chemicals that are called “forever chemicals” because they aren’t easily broken down in

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The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled the first-ever national drinking water standard imposing limits on so-called forever chemicals that public water systems will have to implement.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the move would protect communities from harmful per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—toxic synthetic chemicals that are called “forever chemicals” because they aren’t easily broken down in the environment or the human body. The agency estimates that between 6 percent and 1src percent of the country’s 66,srcsrcsrc public drinking water systems will be affected by the new rules, reducing about 1srcsrc million Americans’ exposure to PFAS.

The reduced exposure will in turn prevent thousands of deaths and avoid tens of thousands of serious illnesses, the EPA said. Most people in the U.S. have been exposed to PFAS, according to the agency, with studies showing that certain levels of exposure may cause reproductive issues, developmental delays in children, and an increased risk of some kinds of cancer.

While public health advocates have pushed for the limits, water utilities have warned that the rules will cost tens of billions of dollars thanks to expensive treatment systems, according to the Associated Press. They have also claimed consumers’ prices will rise and that small communities will be the hardest hit.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan hailed the new rule as “life-changing” and said it was the most important action the agency has taken on PFAS. “We are one huge step closer to finally shutting off the tap on forever chemicals once and for all,” he said Tuesday, according to The New York Times.

The rule will create limits for five different PFAS chemicals: PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA. Public water systems will have three years to complete initial monitoring for the chemicals and will be obligated to inform the public of PFAS levels measured in their drinking water.

For those found to have exceeded the levels mandated by the new standards, the water systems will have to “implement solutions” to reduce PFAS levels within five years, according to the EPA.

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