Navigating The New PFAS Safety Standards In Drinking Water

On April 10, 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a landmark announcement regarding the safety of our drinking water. The agency has established new rules in its National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) to safeguard against a group of chemicals known as PFAS. These substances are often called “forever chemicals” because they can stay in our bodies and the environment for a very long time, which can be harmful.

Keeping our water safe from PFAS is a big deal. These new rules mean cleaner, safer water for about 100 million people. That means fewer health problems linked to PFAS, from severe illnesses and other health issues. By understanding these new rules and why they’re in place, we can see how important it is to keep our water clean and safe from these harmful chemicals.

What Are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals used in many products due to their ability to withstand extreme temperatures and resist wear and tear. However, they can have life-threatening impacts on human health. These chemicals have been found in people’s blood and have been linked to various health issues, including cancer, liver damage and developmental problems in children.

The New Rules

NPDWR sets strict safety limits on six harmful chemicals in our drinking water, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs). These chemicals are part of a group called PFAS, including PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA and HFPO-DA (also known as Gen-X). 

Each will have its own safety limit. Some, like PFHxS, PFNA, PFBS, and HFPO-DA, will also have a combined safety limit when they are found together in water. Besides these limits, the NPDWR also sets goals based on health, called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs), for these six PFAS. These goals aren’t enforceable; they’re more like targets to aim for to keep our water safe.

CompoundMaximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) (health-based goal)Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) (enforceable levels)PFOAZero4.0 parts per trillion (ppt) (also expressed as ng/L)PFOSZero4.0 pptPFHxS10.0 ppt10.0 pptPFNA10.0 ppt10.0 pptHFPO-DA (commonly known as Gen-X Chemicals)10.0ppt10.0 pptMixtures containing two or more of PFHxS, PFNA, HFPO-DA and PFBS1.0 (unitless) Hazard Index1.0 (unitless) Hazard Index

A maximum contaminant level (MCL) is a rule on water safety that tells water providers the highest amount of a toxic substance that’s allowed in our tap water to keep us safe. A maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) is a bit different. It’s a guideline, not a mandate. The MCLG tells us the highest amount of a toxic substance that can be in our water without causing health problems.

What Water Systems Need to Do

  • Test the Water: Water providers must check if PFAS chemicals are in the water.
  • Alert the Public: If PFAS are found, they need to let everyone know.
  • Clean It Up: Reduce the level of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the Maximum Containment Level or Hazard index.

Water systems have up to five years to comply with the new regulations, but it’s recommended that they start as soon as possible.

What’s Been Done Before?

This isn’t the first time the EPA has taken steps against PFAS. They’ve been working to understand these chemicals and protect us from them for years. This includes setting guidelines on how much should be allowed in our water and acting against companies that didn’t tell the truth about the dangers of PFAS.

Toxic Exposure

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