Protecting Public Health: EPA Targets PFAS Mixtures with New Standards

glass of drinking water

(Credit: EPA)

by | Apr 11, 2024

This article is included in these additional categories:

The new PFAS regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mark a significant milestone in the United States’ effort to enhance the safety and purity of its drinking water. The regulations aim to lower the permissible levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in public water systems, responding to growing concerns over their impact on human health. PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and resistance to degradation, have been linked to various adverse health effects, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

Under these new standards, water systems are required to monitor the presence of specific PFAS chemicals more comprehensively. For systems that detect PFAS concentrations above the set limits, a grace period of five years is provided to devise and implement solutions to reduce these contaminants in their water supply. Public notification is mandatory if regulated PFAS levels exceed the prescribed standards, ensuring transparency and public awareness.

Experts Weigh-In

“EPA is taking a signature step to protect public health by establishing legally enforceable levels for several PFAS known to occur individually and as a mixture in drinking water.” – Jennifer McLain, Director Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

“While long expected, the announcement of the EPA’s final national drinking water standards for PFAS will pose significant challenges for public water systems throughout the country. Complying with these rigorous standards will entail significant costs, likely stretching well into the future as these entirely artificial ‘forever chemicals’ persist in the environment. We remain committed to assisting our water utility clients in their efforts to ensure that the manufacturers of these chemicals, and the products containing them, bear as much of these costs as possible.” – Ken Sansone, partner, SL Environmental Law Group.

“We know that PFAS pollution can have a disproportionate impact on small, disadvantaged, and rural communities, and federal funding is available specifically for these water systems.” – Yu-Ting Guilaran, Deputy Director, Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

The Numbers

The introduction of the PFAS drinking water rule poses a significant regulatory impact on over 66,000 public water systems across the United States. Most of these systems will use monitoring protocols to ensure PFAS levels do not surpass the defined regulatory standards. The EPA projects that about 6% to 10% of these systems will need corrective actions to align with the new PFAS standards.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, compliance with new regulations typically has a three-year timeline. However, acknowledging the time and capital investment necessary for water systems to implement the requisite modifications, the EPA has extended this compliance window to five years, mandating that other rule aspects, like public notifications, commence within three years post-finalization. This strategic extension underscores the EPA’s commitment to facilitating a feasible adjustment period for water systems while prioritizing public health protections against PFAS contamination.

The EPA’s action is expected to yield extensive health benefits, profoundly affecting the lives of approximately 100 million Americans who rely on public drinking water systems. By significantly minimizing PFAS exposure, the regulation aims to reduce the incidence of PFAS-attributable illnesses and deaths, projecting measurable health benefits estimated at around $1.5 billion per year. “On a personal level, every life saved and every life that’s improved as a result of this rule is priceless.” – Bruno Pigott, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water.

Financially, the initial cost of compliance with the new regulations is estimated at $1.5 billion annually. This includes expenses related to system monitoring, customer communication, and necessary treatment technologies. However, the Biden-Harris Administration has allocated substantial funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, dedicating $9 billion to assist communities affected by PFAS pollution and an additional $12 billion for general drinking water improvements.

The EPA emphasizes that the rule is achievable and flexible, permitting water systems to choose the most suitable treatment solutions, including granular activated carbon, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange systems. This flexibility, coupled with significant federal funding and technical support, aims to ensure that all communities, especially those that are small, disadvantaged, or rural, can meet the new requirements and safeguard their residents against the risks of PFAS contamination.

Additional articles you will be interested in.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This