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EPA Establishes First National Standards for PFAS in Drinking Water

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The Biden administration, in a landmark move on Wednesday, introduced the first-ever national standards for reducing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as ‘forever chemicals’, in drinking water. This initiative aims to mitigate the prevalence of these toxic compounds, which are linked to several serious health issues including cancers, immune system weaknesses, and developmental delays in children.

Historically used in manufacturing water-resistant and non-stick products, PFAS has contaminated a large portion of the nation’s water supplies. While certain states had set their own PFAS limits, there had been no unified federal standard until now. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the new rule will benefit about 100 million people by preventing 9,600 deaths and nearly 30,000 illnesses over the coming decades.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan emphasized the significance of this regulation as a crucial element of the agency’s PFAS Roadmap, aiming to save thousands of lives and ensure healthier conditions for future generations. The rule specifically targets public water systems; it does not apply to privately owned wells, although about 6% to 10% of public systems are expected to need upgrades to comply.

Under the new standards, water systems must monitor for PFAS and, if levels exceed EPA thresholds, must reduce them within five years. To support compliance, the administration has allocated $1 billion through the bipartisan infrastructure law, aiding water systems and private wells in addressing PFAS contamination.

The financial implications of these regulations are significant, with the EPA projecting annual costs of $1.5 billion. The American Water Works Association has expressed concerns about the potential for even higher expenses, suggesting that many communities might face affordability challenges.

The EPA has set legal limits of 4 parts per trillion for the two most dangerous PFAS compounds—PFOA and PFOS—and 10 parts per trillion for other notable PFAS such as PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX. Additionally, the agency has established a combined limit for mixtures of these chemicals, employing a formula to gauge the health risks of their interactions.

The initiative has been met with accolades from environmental groups and affected communities while facing criticism from industry stakeholders and some political figures who argue that the costs may outweigh the benefits. Despite the contention, the EPA’s move marks a significant step in federal environmental regulation, aiming to significantly reduce the health risks associated with PFAS exposure.

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