EPA sets new rule for drinking water

Targeted Chemicals are Found in People and Animals Around the World

The Environmental Protection Agency introduced first-ever rules in April to remove a group of synthetic chemicals from the nation’s drinking water systems.

Advocates argue the policy is decades past due and will reduce health risks, but some industry groups say the rules will put too much burden on the people who pay the bills to keep systems operating.

The new rules set limits for five individual PFAS: PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA (also known as “GenX Chemicals”). The rule also sets a limit for mixtures of any two or more of four PFAS: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and “GenX chemicals.”

PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Who will pay?

The American Metropolitan Water Association’s “analysis indicates that the drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS will cost community water system ratepayers hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of additional dollars per year. This will exacerbate the severe water affordability challenges already faced by communities from coast to coast,” AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins said.

“This rulemaking represents a multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate that will be borne by water system ratepayers across the country.”

The EPA estimates it will cost utilities $1.5 billion each year to comply with the new standards.

The infrastructure law passed in 2021 included $9 billion to deal with PFAS contamination. The EPA said $1 billion would be set aside to help states with initial testing and treatment.

A study by engineering-consulting firm Black & Veatch, commissioned by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), puts the cost to remove PFAS at $2.5 billion to $3.2 billion each year.

AWWA estimated compliance would require more than 5,000 water systems to develop new water sources or install and operate advanced treatment facilities. Another 2,500 water systems in states with PFAS regulations already in place would need to adjust treatment methods.

AWWA says that while strong standards are required, the EPA should target polluters rather than force water systems to pay for upgrades.

Environmental groups say the removal of FPAS is necessary to protect public health.

“Today’s announcement of robust, health protective legal limits on PFAS in tap water will finally give tens of millions of Americans the protection they should have had decades ago,” said Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group.

PFAS are in our bodies

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals widely used in manufacturing since the 1940s. Products from the linings of fast-food boxes and non-stick cookware to firefighting foams include PFAS, which repel oils and resist heat.

The chemicals trickled into water supplies over time.

High concentrations of some PFAS may lead to adverse health risks in people, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The chemicals are commonly called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down.

The chemicals have been linked to decreased fertility, developmental effects in children, and higher risks of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers, among other health problems, the EPA says.

The EPA says PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment, though the degree of health risk is still being studied.

Water systems already affected

The chemicals are so pervasive that a study by United States Geological Survey (USGS) found PFAS in at least 45 percent of the nation’s tap water.

However, there are more than 12,000 types of PFAS, not all of which can be detected with current tests. The USGS study tested for the presence of 32 types.

Operators of public water systems have three years to complete initial monitoring for the chemicals and they must inform the public of the level of PFAS measured. Where PFAS is found at levels that exceed standards, systems must implement solutions to reduce PFAS in drinking water within five years.

EPA Rules

EPA new rules for drinking water.