The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency June 15 dramatically lowered the safe drinking water levels of four common fluorochemicals, saying that new science warrants tougher action to protect public health.
The EPA, in what's officially an interim health advisory, lowered its safe drinking water levels from 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS down to 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively.
The new levels are between 3,500 and 17,000 times lower than those set by President Barack Obama's EPA in 2016 for the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or "forever" chemicals as they are called for their persistence in the environment.
"People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. "That's why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge."
The American Chemistry Council, however, questioned some of the science behind EPA's new levels and said while they are not officially enforceable, the EPA's action will have a major impact on what governments around the country do.
"While they are nonregulatory levels, they will have sweeping implications for policies at the state and federal levels," ACC said in a statement. "Getting the science right is of critical importance."
ACC questioned whether the new standards are achievable in drinking water systems.
"These new levels cannot be achieved with existing treatment technology and, in fact, are below levels that can be reliably detected using existing EPA methods," ACC said.
Besides the lower levels for perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate, EPA also set advisory levels for two other PFAS chemicals that have largely replaced them in commerce, GenX and a compound called PFBS, at 10 ppt and 2,000 ppt, respectively.
Additionally, the agency announced a $1 billion grant program to help communities address water contamination from FPAS and other chemicals.
The Environmental Working Group praised the EPA announcement and said that 200 million Americans are drinking water that is contaminated with PFAS, which it said have been linked to cancer and reproductive health problems at very low levels.
"Today's announcement should set off alarm bells for consumers and regulators," said Melanie Benesh, EWG's legislative attorney.
EWG urged EPA to finish a formal regulatory standard for PFOA and PFOS by the end of 2023, and to tighten up on industrial emissions, which EPA called for in a November road map.