We are entering the final week for submitting comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on proposed limits on PFAS chemicals in drinking water. PFAS (per-and poly-flouroalkyl substances) are a class of human-made chemicals that are toxic even in very low concentrations. Because they are stain and oil resistant and repel water, PFAS have been widely used since the 1950s in many common consumer products, including carpets, clothing, cookware, cosmetics, and food packaging.These “forever chemicals” are highly persistent and mobile in the environment, which means they bioaccumulate and travel unchanged through streams, rivers, and other water bodies, including drinking water sources. PFAS are linked to serious health problems including damage to liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function, immune system harm, hormone disruption, high cholesterol, and cancer.
EPA has followed up on its commitment to propose Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) limits on two of the oldest PFAS chemicals - PFOA and PFOS - with a bold proposal that sets the Maximum Contaminant Level at 4 ppt, the lowest level that can be reliably measured in drinking water. EPA has also responded to the call from impacted communities and advocates to address the many other PFAS chemicals being found in water around the country by proposing to limit four other PFAS chemicals in drinking water, whether they occur alone or in mixtures.
Thousands of PFAS chemicals are in everyday use and many other PFAS chemicals are found in drinking water sources. Monitoring taking place as part of the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule right now will lead to discovery of PFAS chemicals in more places, EPA’s analysis has demonstrated that there is a substantial likelihood that all of the PFAS chemicals included in this proposal, either separately or in mixtures, will occur in drinking water at levels that threaten public health.
As EPA notes in the proposal, health effects associated with PFAS are significant and diverse. We have enough information to tell us we need to limit them in drinking water, even if drinking water is only around 20% of our exposure. That’s why we support EPA’s proposal. You can weigh in here and tell EPA to finalize this proposal as soon as possible.
But we can’t stop here. Setting limits for PFAS chemicals in drinking water does not solve the problem. If manufacturers and users of PFAS chemicals keep discharging them into our water, the amount of these chemicals in our drinking water sources will continue to increase. This puts our health at risk, and leads to the need for more treatment and to higher costs for our communities and in our water bills.
As noted above, drinking water is not the only source of people’s exposure to these chemicals, which are found in products and processes throughout the economy and in many aspects of our daily lives. We have to stop the PFAS pollution getting into our air, our water, our food. And we need to stop using these thousands of chemicals. As EPA carries out the other commitments in its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, it needs to take equally decisive action to reduce PFAS exposures and get these chemicals out of use.
- In April, EPA took the first-ever Clean Water Act enforcement action against a polluter. Read more about EPA’s action against the Chemours Washington Works plant in West Virginia here.
- We have urged EPA to put the Clean Water Act to work to stop PFAS water pollution. Read Jennifer Peters’ blog post on EPA’s December announcement directing states to include PFAS limits in Clean Water Act water pollution discharges permits.
- States are leading the way: See the latest from Minnesota, where the Governor will soon sign a bill prohibiting sale of products containing PFAS.