“A huge victory for public health”: EPA set limits on PFAS toxins in drinking water

By Shannon Kelleher

US regulators on Wednesday put in place the nation’s first legally enforceable limits for levels of six toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water, saying the moves should prevent thousands of deaths and reduce serious illnesses in people across the country.

The rule is designed to reduce exposure to these per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – also called “forever chemicals” – for about 100 million people nationwide, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Exposure to PFAS has been linked to “deadly cancers, impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children, the EPA said.

“Today we can celebrate a huge victory for public health in this country,” Rob Bilott, a lawyer who has become famous for his work against PFAS, said in a statement. Bilott has spent decades pushing for PFAS regulations and to hold PFAS manufacturers accountable for releasing the dangerous chemicals into the marketplace.

“It should never have taken this long to address such serious threats to public health and our environment,” Bilott said, noting that he first alerted the EPA to the presence of PFAS in US drinking water more than twenty-three years ago.

The new rule sets a limit of four parts per trillion (ppt) for two types of PFAS – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which are both known to be particularly hazardous.

The EPA acknowledged that there is “no level of exposure to these contaminants without risk of health impacts, including certain cancers,” and said it was setting a “non-enforceable health-based goal,” at zero for PFOA and PFOS.