The Biden-Harris administration has proposed the first national drinking water standards to address the presence of harmful contaminants known as “forever chemicals” that are damaging to human health and ecosystems, according to a White House statement released on Tuesday.
The proposed plan would task the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with monitoring perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in public drinking water, and would empower the agency to take action if six specific types of PFAS reached detectable levels. If these regulations were to be fully implemented, they could save thousands of lives and prevent many more illnesses associated with exposure to PFAS, according to the EPA.
“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution,” said Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the EPA, in a statement. “That’s why President Biden launched a whole-of-government approach to aggressively confront these harmful chemicals, and EPA is leading the way forward,”
“EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities,” he added. “This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”
PFAS are incredibly resilient compounds, a feature that has made them a popular ingredient for a huge number of commercial products, including cookware, toilet paper, fabrics, and cleaning solutions. This longevity also distinguishes them as dangerous pollutants that seep into soil, water, and other environments, where they linger for years or decades without breaking down.
As a result, PFAS are everywhere, including our blood and organs, and exposure can start in the womb. Even something as seemingly innocuous as rainwater contains toxic levels of PFAS. Given that these chemicals have been linked to a host of adverse health outcomes, including some cancers, scientists have been raising alarms about their effects for years. The CDC says it has detected PFAS chemicals in the blood of nearly everyone it has tested, indicating widespread exposure. A study from the Environmental Working Group suggests that the large majority of Americans are exposed to PFAS in their drinking water.
The newly proposed drinking water standards are part of a wider “strategic roadmap” by the Biden-Harris administration to tackle the problem of PFAS. Previous milestones include an allotment of $10 billion to clean up PFAS, and other contaminants, in the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and a $2 billion commitment from the EPA to address pollution, including from PFAS, in the drinking water of small, rural, and disadvantaged communities.
Now that these new drinking water standards have been proposed, the EPA has requested input from all stakeholders on the public docket, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114, at www.regulations.gov.
“I have long supported the implementation of a national drinking water standard to ensure that the water in our communities is clean and safe for consumption,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional PFAS Taskforce, in the Tuesday statement.
“Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction as we work to prevent the future contamination of PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in our water and I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to enforce a high standard of water quality.”
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