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EPA Adopts Sharply-Reduced Health Advisories for Key PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water

WASHINGTON -

A top EPA official announced new, more stringent health advisories for four PFAS chemicals – greatly increasing protections from PFOA, PFOS, and GenX – during a conference of grassroots leaders from communities across the nation where drinking water is contaminated by “forever” toxic chemicals. The new exposure levels are not enforceable under federal law.

According to Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Water, the health advisories will adjust exposure levels for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water from 70 parts per trillion set in 2016 to 4 parts per quadrillion for PFOA (0.004 parts per trillion) and 20 parts per quadrillion for PFOS (0.020 parts per trillion). Two other PFAS chemicals, GenX and PFBS, will be subject to federal health advisories for the first time, with 10 parts per trillion for GenX and 2,000 parts per trillion for PFBS.

 

The following are reactions from Stel Bailey, co-facilitator of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, and Erik D. Olson from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), senior strategic director for health and food.

 

“The EPA had the courage to follow the science, something we’ve been demanding for years,” said Stel Bailey, co-facilitator of National PFAS Contamination Coalition. “This is a step in the right direction. We still maintain that no water is safe until the EPA establishes 1 part per trillion Maximum Contaminant Level for total PFAS as a class.” 
 

“The science is clear: these chemicals are shockingly toxic at extremely low doses. EPA’s new health advisories for PFOA, PFOS, and GenX reflect this robust science and will send a welcome signal that government and industry must do more to protect public health,” said Erik D. Olson of NRDC. “EPA has had to continuously fight polluters and opponents of any meaningful action on PFAS. But we cannot continue taking a ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to the ever-expanding avalanche of 12,000 PFAS chemicals. It’s time to regulate all PFAS with enforceable standards as a single class of chemicals. Any other approach will leave every one of us at risk from these forever toxics for decades to come,” Olson said. Olson also expressed puzzlement about the PFBS advisory, which is out of step with the other advisories and state levels and higher than expected based on available science.

 

Background:

 

PFAS chemicals are used in everyday products like nonstick cookware, carpets, food packaging, stain repellents, and water-resistant clothing. The synthetic compounds are also commonly found in firefighting foam and gear, which has led to the contamination of most military bases and airports. GenX, which was marketed as a “replacement” for PFOA, poses health concerns at extremely low levels as well, as EPA’s new health advisory highlights. There are many thousands of these “forever chemicals” that do not break down in the environment and, instead, can bioaccumulate in the bodies of humans and wildlife. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PFAS can be detected in the blood of nearly every American, and have been linked to health problems including cancer and developmental issues.
 

EPA issued a rule in December 2021, the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5, that requires all public water systems serving more than 3,300 people to test for 29 PFAS including the four for which EPA issued health advisories today. EPA will test a random selection of smaller systems. Testing starts in 2024 and will take place over a 3-year period. NRDC expects, based on monitoring completed by a few states including Michigan and California, that there may be more than 100 million Americans who will learn that they have PFAS in their tap water starting as soon as next year due to this monitoring, the results of which must be disclosed to water system customers.

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NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

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