EPA revises health advisory for PFAS pollution in US water systems

The new health advisory finds no safe level for "forever chemicals" in United States water systems.

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced a revision to its proposed values for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals found in drinking water. Known to be toxic to humans and animals, “the agency is lowering its lifetime health advisory levels for two PFAS chemicals—PFOS and PFOA—by more than 1000-fold to 20 and 4 parts per quadrillion, respectively” and “setting new health advisories for two common PFAS chemicals that were invented as replacements—known as GenX and PFBS—to 10 and 2000 parts per trillion respectively,” according to a press release.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used since the 1950s in both industry and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil. The new health advisory finds no safe level for “forever chemicals” in United States water systems.

“This is an important milestone in the fight to protect public health,” Anthony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, said. “EPA has confirmed that there are effectively no safe levels of PFOS or PFAS and rejected the notion that newer PFAS chemicals GenX and PFBS are harmless. Now it is time for the Department of Defense to act with urgency and clean up the PFAS it created for millions of communities across the country.”

Studies have linked “forever chemicals” to different types of cancer, low birth weights and many other health ailments. Now, “any detectable amount of either chemical in drinking water exceeds EPA’s recommendation,” according to a press release. This will ensure additional pollution testing nationally, water filtration or blending at contaminated sites, and potentially the abandonment of some polluted drinking water wells.

“We welcome this bold move by EPA’s Office of Water,” Sonya Lunder, Sierra Club’s Senior Toxics Policy advisor, said. “The Agency has promised that, ‘when we learn more about PFAS, we will do more,’ and we already know plenty. Let’s see the same decisive action to halt the production and use of PFAS chemicals, end the discharges of PFAS into our waterways, and stop the application of tainted sewage sludge on farmlands.”

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