US EPA issues new drinking water standards targeting PFAS – JURIST

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The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the finalization of new drinking water standards Wednesday that aim to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals legally allowed in water in the United States.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetical chemicals that have been used in commercial products since the 1950s. The chemicals can be found in a variety of everyday products from cookware to clothing. However, recent research has shown that long-term and frequent exposure to PFAS can have impacts on health. According to studies done by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), exposure to PFAS can cause liver and cholesterol problems, birth defects and cancer. The EPA has also released several health advisories related to PFAS. These advisories warned consumers about the effects of PFAS, particularly those that existed in drinking water.

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PFAS have been a known health risk for some time. In October 2021, the Biden administration launched a plan to combat pollution caused by PFAS. Additionally, the administration took action in March 2023 and worked with the EPA to propose new drinking water standards. These standards have now been finalized, after going through the notice and comment review process.

The EPA estimates that the changes will cost $1.5 billion annually. In a fact sheet released by the EPA, the EPA estimated that the benefits justify the costs:

People will live longer, healthier lives because of this action, and the benefits justify the costs. Once implemented, these limits will reduce tens of thousands of PFAS-attributable illnesses or deaths. EPA estimates that once implemented, this regulation will reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million Americans served by public drinking water systems.

Fewer people will get cancer or liver disease, pregnant women will have reduced risks, and more and children and infants will be stronger and grow healthier. EPA calculated measurable health benefits based on fewer cancers, lower incidents of heart attacks and strokes, and reduced birth complications. These benefits are estimated to be approximately $1.5 billion per year, and include avoided costs of medical bills, income lost to illness, and death.

The final plan sets maximum contaminant levels for five individual types of PFAS. Publicly regulated water systems will have five years from the passing of this standard to reduce the levels of PFAS in their water and are required to inform the public if the levels of PFAS exceed the new maximum. In terms of implementing the plan, the EPA noted that systems already exist to remove PFAS from the water, and water systems have discretion in the method they choose to use.

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