On Friday, the White House advanced a proposal to impose new drinking water limits on two of the most notorious toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a legal duty under the Safe Drinking Water Act to propose limits on two PFAS chemicals – PFOA, once used to make Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in Scotchgard. The rule was cleared on Friday by the White House, but the EPA missed the legal deadline for issuing the proposal.
From the time the EPA decides to regulate a chemical by imposing limits, the water law gives the agency two years. The agency made the decision to impose new drinking water limits on PFOA and PFOS on March 3, 2021.
In October 2022, the EPA sent the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for mandatory pre-publication review. While the rule was cleared today by the White House, the EPA will miss the legal deadline for issuing the proposal.
“Residents in contaminated communities across the country have waited decades for clean water,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
“The EPA has done its job, and now the White House has done their job. After making campaign promises to get PFAS out of drinking water, it’s good news the Biden administration is not letting the polluters and their fellow travelers within government hold this rule hostage,” said Faber.
EWG estimates there could be nearly 30,000 industrial polluters releasing PFAS into the environment,
PFOA and PFOS are just two types of PFAS, a large family of fluorinated chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. They have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, immune system damage and other serious health problems, even at low levels. The EPA has known about the health risks from PFAS since at least the 1990s.
In June, the EPA proposed updated lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS and published new advisories for replacement chemicals GenX and PFBS. These guidelines provide information about drinking water contaminants that can harm people who are exposed to them throughout their lives.
The new EPA health risk assessment for the health advisories for the first time included studies on people, including children. It showed that PFAS exposure can cause health harms at levels much lower than the agency’s previous health guideline of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS in water.
PFAS have been found in the drinking water and ground water of more than 2,800 communities. But the true scale of contamination is likely much greater.
EWG estimates there could be nearly 30,000 industrial polluters releasing PFAS into the environment, including into sources of drinking water. Restricting industrial discharges will reduce the amount of PFAS that drinking water utilities must treat. In January, the EPA delayed proposed rules limiting discharges of PFAS from certain industries.
Because of current EPA guidelines, between 2023 and 2025, water utilities will be required to test drinking water for 29 PFAS. That effort will provide more insight into the extent of contamination from those chemicals, which may prompt regulation of other compounds.