EPA puts first-ever limits on "forever chemicals" in drinking water

PFAS, or "forever chemicals," commonly appear in products like cookware and waterproof fabrics

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 10, 2024 1:32PM (EDT)

Close-up of a woman filling a glass of water from the kitchen faucet (Getty Images/Grace Cary)
Close-up of a woman filling a glass of water from the kitchen faucet (Getty Images/Grace Cary)

"Forever chemicals" live up to their name and take inconceivably long to break down. You definitely don't want these substances in your body. Technically known as PFAS (short for "per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances"), they are linked to ailments like high blood pressure, liver disease, lowered sperm count and various cancers. Unfortunately, PFAS are also in hundreds of common household products, from microwaveable popcorn bags and nonstick cookware to food boxes and takeout containers, from receipt paper and waterproof clothes to umbrella coatings and dental floss.

Inevitably, PFAS have also seeped into our water supply. To address this, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday that it will impose strict limits on how many PFAS can be in our drinking water, requiring utilities to reduce them to their lowest measurable levels.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan told the Associated Press that "the result is a comprehensive and life-changing rule, one that will improve the health and vitality of so many communities across our country." The EPA estimates that it will cost $1.5 billion annually to implement the rule but that it will prevent nearly 10,000 deaths over decades while reducing the prevalence of many serious illnesses linked to PFAS consumption.

While environmentalists praised the new policy as a step in the right direction toward PFAS removal, it is only the beginning. PFAS are present everywhere in the environment, and as Dr. Katie Pelch of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Salon last year, it will not be easy to fix.

"Even if we turned off the tap on all of our production of PFAS today, we have already severely contaminated our environment," Pelch said. "So we need solutions that help remove PFAS from the environment, remove PFAS from drinking water and from all of our contaminated land and air. We need to set safe drinking water standards while also removing PFAS from all of our consumer and industrial products where they're not essential."

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