Federal Regulators Impose Limits On ‘Forever Chemicals’ In Water

As the number of products made with specific perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl — also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” — has increased in recent decades, new concerns have arisen regarding the presence of these toxic substances in the U.S. water supply.

This week, the White House confirmed that it would be implementing strict new limits on the concentration of PFAS in drinking water, seeking to ensure that utility companies keep the level of such chemicals to the lowest possible level.

Regulators insist that this effort, which was first proposed last year, will lower the risk of cancer and other adverse health effects for millions of Americans. Critics, however, say the cost of complying with the new rule will lead to a spike in water costs for the average consumer.

For his part, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan touted the latest restriction as the single most important step the agency has taken on the issue of forever chemicals.

“The result is a comprehensive and life-changing rule, one that will improve the health and vitality of so many communities across the country,” he said.

According to the rule, the two most common forms of PFAS will be limited to four parts per trillion in U.S. drinking water, with three other types capped 10 parts per trillion.

Exposure to the chemicals, often used in the manufacturing process of nonstick pans, waterproof garments and other common products, have been linked in some studies to health problems including kidney cancer and reduced birth weight. North Carolina State University professor Scott Belcher explained that the accumulation of such chemicals in the body over time appears to compound these risks.

“Even tiny, tiny amounts each time you take a drink of water over your lifetime is going to keep adding up, leading to the health effects,” he said.

Although forever chemicals can be found in a host of other places, Environmental Working Group food and water expert Scott Faber said that lowering the concentration in the water supply “is the most cost effective way to reduce our exposure” because it is “much more challenging to reduce other exposures such as PFAS in food or clothing or carpets.”

Utilities industry advocacy groups, however, say the regulation is not only too expensive, but could cause unintended consequences.

WaterPIO President Mike McGill, for example, said the EPA’s latest rule will “throw public confidence in drinking water into chaos.”

The American Water Works Association asserted that the regulations will raise prices even in communities without elevated levels of PFAS in their drinking water supply and argued that there is not a reliable enough supply of expert personnel and filtration systems available to meet the new demands.