Under Pressure, EPA Moves Forward with Drinking Water Standards for PFOA and PFOS

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

WASHINGTON – Under pressure from Congress, today the Environmental Protection Agency took the next step towards setting legal limits for two fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, in drinking water.

The agency is proposing a “regulatory determination” to set a national drinking water standard for the two most notorious PFAS – PFOA, formerly used to make Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in Scotchgard – but the final standards water utilities must meet could still take years to finalize if ever.

EPA has wasted decades deciding whether to regulate PFAS – and they could take many more years before a drinking water standard is finalized,” said EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh. “But today’s decision shows that an avalanche of public pressure and overwhelming science is finally forcing EPA to act.”

Benesh cited bipartisan support for H.R. 535, the PFAS Action Act, and efforts by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), to secure commitments from EPA, as critical moments in the fight to get PFAS out of tap water.

Recent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG found PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including major metropolitan areas. Of tap water samples from 44 places in 31 states and the District of Columbia, only one location had no detectable PFAS. Some of the highest PFAS levels detected were in samples from major metropolitan areas, including Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans and the northern New Jersey suburbs of New York City.

“States should not wait for the EPA to act,” said Benesh. “It will be years – if ever – before a final drinking water standard is set. States should continue to set their own standards to protect Americans from toxic PFAS.”

PFAS chemicals are linked to serious health concerns including kidney and testicular cancer, reproductive and developmental harms, and reduced effectiveness of vaccines. PFAS chemicals never break down in the environment and can stay in the human body for decades.

Independent scientific studies have recommended a safe level for PFAS in drinking water of 1 ppt, which is endorsed by EWG. Several states, including New York, have taken steps to set health-protective drinking water limits for some PFAS.

The EPA also proposed a rule today that will restrict some uses of so-called long-chain PFAS chemicals.

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