New standards on PFAS in drinking water aims to reduce illnesses, cancer, CDC says

ByMonique John and AP WTVD logo
Wednesday, April 10, 2024
First-ever limits on 'forever chemicals' in drinking water announced
The rule is the first national drinking water limit on toxic PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are widespread and long-lasting in the environment.

NORTH CAROLINA (WTVD) -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Biden administration have finalized strict limits on certain so-called "forever chemicals" in drinking water that will require utilities to reduce them to the lowest level they can be reliably measured.

Officials say this will reduce exposure for 100 million people and help prevent thousands of illnesses, including cancers.

The Biden administration is investing $1 billion into the issue so that every state and territory can conduct initial testing and treatment of public water systems and eventually homes with private wells.

The rule is the first national drinking water limit on toxic PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are widespread and long-lasting in the environment. Health advocates praised the Environmental Protection Agency for not backing away from tough limits the agency proposed last year. But water utilities took issue with the rule, saying treatment systems are expensive to install and that customers will end up paying more for water.

Water providers are entering a new era with significant additional health standards that the EPA says will make tap water safer for millions of consumers - a Biden administration priority. The agency has also proposed forcing utilities to remove dangerous lead pipes.

Utility groups warn the rules will cost tens of billions of dollars each and fall hardest on small communities with fewer resources. Legal challenges are sure to follow. EPA Administrator Michael Regan says the rule is the most important action the EPA has ever taken on PFAS.

"The result is a comprehensive and life-changing rule, one that will improve the health and vitality of so many communities across our country," said Regan.

Water utilities will now have to filter out five of more than 12,000 types of individual forever chemicals - PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS and HFPO-DA, also known as GenX chemicals. The regulations also set a limit for mixtures of any two or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX chemicals.

The chemicals are linked to a variety of health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, reproductive problems and heart and liver damage among other issues. The chemicals are found in the blood of nearly 97% of all Americans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SEE ALSO | NC homeowners notified private wells found to have PFAS

You can learn more about the new standards via three different EPA Information Webinars that you can sign up for:

Tuesday, April 16 - 2:00-3:00 pm - Topic: General Overview of PFAS NDPWR for Communities

Tuesday, April 23 - 2:00 - 3:00 pm - Topic: Drinking Water Utilities and Professionals Technical Overview of PFAS NPDWR

Tuesday, April 30 - 2:00 - 3:30 pm - Topic: Small Drinking Water Systems Webinar Series on Final PFAS NPDWR and PFAS Drinking Water Treatment

The new standard is not flowing well with the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The agency issued a statement not too long after the EPA's announcement. The statement in part says:

"We share the goal of protecting the health, well-being, and safety of Americans across the country. That includes access to safe and reliable drinking water for all. With scarce resources and other water priorities, we need to thoughtfully follow sound science. "Unfortunately, there are serious concerns with the underlying science used to develop these Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs). These concerns have been validated by peer-reviewed research that also calls into question the basis for EPA's overly conservative approach to assessing one of the health endpoints. Even EPA's own Science Advisory Board severely criticized much of the underlying science behind the proposed standards. Read the full statement here.

NC Cities Respond

Durham, Raleigh, Orange County

The Durham Department of Water Management (Durham Water), Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), and Raleigh Water have issued a joint statement in response to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new PFAS regulations. "Durham Water, OWASA, and Raleigh Water applaud the EPA's action to help protect drinking water in North Carolina and around the country. Our agencies have been working proactively to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances-known collectively as PFAS. PFAS compounds present unique challenges due to their persistence in the environment and potential health risks. With a shared commitment to ensuring safe and clean drinking water for our communities, we are dedicated to addressing this critical issue to meet the latest regulatory standards."

Town of Pittsboro

"As a proactive and environmentally conscious community, The Town of Pittsboro strongly supports the new federal regulations to set stringent limits on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. These new standards are part of a broader national effort to safeguard public health and ensure the purity of drinking water across the United States. Pittsboro has long been at the forefront of environmental stewardship, particularly in the realm of water quality and safety. Out of a commitment to the health and well-being of its residents and in anticipation of more rigorous standards, Pittsboro has already taken significant steps to address PFAS contamination. Through substantial investments in cutting-edge Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filtration technology, the Town has successfully reduced PFAS levels in its drinking water to non-detectable levels, setting a benchmark for communities nationwide." See the full statement here and the measures Pittsboro has in place.