WASHINGTON – Days after Congress failed to set drinking water standards for two highly toxic fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, the European Union is moving aggressively to adopt drinking water limits on all PFAS compounds throughout its 28 member nations.
EU officials have reached a provisional agreement to update the union’s 1998 Drinking Water Directive to tighten the permissible limits allowed for both PFAS and several other drinking water contaminants, including bisphenol-A, or BPA, microplastics, lead and chromium. The European Parliament and Council must still formally approve the proposal.
For PFAS, the EU would begin by setting a legally binding drinking water limit of 100 parts per trillion, or ppt, for 20 compounds in the vast PFAS family of chemicals. Within three years, regulators would develop testing protocols as well as a legal limit for all 4,700 PFAS chemicals.
The first batch of PFAS chemicals to be assigned new drinking water limits would likely include these 16 listed in an earlier draft: PFOA and PFOS, the two most notorious members of the family, and 14 others known by an array of chemical acronyms.
Just days ago, the EU member states agreed that the PFAS compound known as PFBS is a “substance of very high concern,” and earlier this year a PFAS known as GenX was also assigned that classification. EWG was unable to confirm whether those two were included in the final list of 20 compounds.
A drinking water limit of 100 ppt for PFAS is far higher than the 1 ppt safe level found in independent studies and endorsed by EWG scientists. But having standards in place is better than none at all, which is currently the situation in both the EU and the U.S., said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs.
Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only issued a nonenforceable health advisory of 70 ppt for PFOA, formerly used by DuPont to make Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. Those compounds are no longer manufactured in the U.S., but they and other PFAS contaminate the drinking water for an estimated 110 million Americans. PFOA, PFOS and some other PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, reproductive and immune system problems, and other health harms.
“Once again, Americans will be drinking water and using products that are not as safe as in Europe. It’s ridiculous,” said Faber. “Congress missed a chance to set a deadline for PFAS drinking water standards in the defense spending bill, but the House will have another chance when PFAS legislation reaches the House floor in January.”
This week, Congress passed a defense spending bill that failed to include key provisions designed to reduce ongoing releases of PFAS, remove PFAS from tap water and clean up legacy PFAS contamination.
 The 16 are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS); perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS); perfluoroheptane sulfonic acid (PFHpS); perfluorononane sulfonic acid (PFNS); perfluorodecane sulfonic acid (PFDS); perfluoroundecane sulfonic acid (PFUnS); perfluorododecane sulfonic acid (PFDoDS); perfluorotridecane sulfonic acid (PFTrDS); perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA); perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA); perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA); perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA); perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDA); perfluorododecanoic acid (PFDoDA); and perfluorotridecanoic acid (PFTrDA).
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