EPA to regulate certain types of ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water in 2023
The EPA on Monday released its strategy for addressing a type of cancer-linked chemicals called PFAS, including its plans to finish a rule to regulate certain types of PFAS in drinking water in 2023.
PFAS stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and these substances are a group of man-made chemicals that have been linked to health problems such as kidney and testicular cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure rates can be difficult to assess, but one 2015 study found PFAS to be in the blood of 97 percent of Americans.
The EPA’s overall strategy is focused on researching PFAS, restricting their release into the air, land and water and broadening cleanup efforts.
The agency’s drinking water limit pertains to certain types of PFAS called PFOA and PFOS, saying it hopes to propose an enforceable drinking water limit for them in fall 2022 and finalize it in fall 2023.
The Trump administration also eyed regulating PFOA and PFOS, proposing its own regulation on the substances last year.
The drinking water standard is a long-awaited milestone for environmental advocates, but some have called for PFAS to be regulated as an entire group instead of on an individual basis because there are hundreds of them and they can occur in mixtures.
The EPA is also developing a new testing strategy for the substances.
As part of that strategy, the agency is expected to require manufacturers to conduct and fund studies, and could issue testing orders by the end of this year.
The agency has also said that it will declare PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the country’s Superfund hazardous waste cleanup law.
This would require polluters to report discharges of the compounds and give the EPA the ability to recoup costs for their cleanup.
The EPA will propose a regulation to do so in spring 2022 and finalize the decision in summer 2023. The Trump administration had also floated a hazardous substance designation for the two chemicals.
The agency has previously announced that it would set discharge limits for certain industries. The push was highlighted in the roadmap, saying such rules would apply to the organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers, metal finishing and electroplating industries.
It also said it would launch detailed studies for other industries including for landfills, textile mills and electrical components.
The agency also said that it plans to publish additional assessments on the toxicity of other types of PFAS starting this fall. These assessments can be used to issue health advisories.
Two of the chemicals it will publish these assessments for are known as “GenX chemicals,” which have been found in water and air, including in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River.
A fact sheet from the White House also highlighted actions being taken by other agencies.
That memo said the Defense Department is conducting cleanup assessments at 700 installations. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration will expand its food testing and the Agriculture Department is supporting research on PFAS in the food system.
The Hill reported this month that the agency’s roadmap was coming soon and obtained slides showing that it was aiming to address “inadequate” regulations, “disproportionate impacts on vulnerable groups” and “the need for prevention” for PFAS that get into the environment
EPA Administrator Michael Regan categorized the plan as a “comprehensive” strategy to protect people.
“For far too long, families across America — especially those in underserved communities — have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” he said in a statement.
“This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable,” he added.
However, the plan appeared to get mixed reviews from advocates, with some saying it didn’t go far enough.
“EPA is kicking the can down the road with this plan,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett said in a statement. “EPA appears incapable of taking the action necessary to protect the public from this health crisis.”
A statement from her organization specifically lamented that the plan only promises limits on two types of PFAS in drinking water and only promising toxicity assessments for seven.
But Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who has been a leading congressional voice on PFAS, called the plan a “significant step.”
“The roadmap serves as a significant step forward in addressing this crisis long-term. Setting a nationwide drinking water standard and especially designating the two most notorious chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, as hazardous substances … will make a real difference,” she said in a statement, adding that PFAS legislation she has championed is still also necessary.
–Updated at 12:07 p.m.