EPA Sets a New Standard to Keep Forever Chemicals out of Drinking Water

This is a first-of-its-kind standard that will aim to ensure millions of Americans have access to water that is free from forever chemicals.

Lauren Wellbank - Author

Apr. 11 2024, Published 3:56 p.m. ET

Man drinking a glass of water
Source: Getty Images

Millions of Americans are about to have access to cleaner drinking water thanks to a new national standard being set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organization has announced that a legally enforceable standard will be included in a multibillion-dollar package being put forth by the Biden-Harris Administration to address the amount of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or forever chemicals, found in the nation's drinking water.

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The plan hopes to guarantee all communities will have access to clean drinking water and reduce the potential for serious health risks associated with drinking contaminated water. This will be the first-ever standard to address these chemicals' presence in our nation's water supply.

Read on to learn more about the news, including the support it's receiving from experts in the field.

Water pouring out of a tap and into a drinking glass
Source: Getty Images
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EPA sets new rule governing PFAS in drinking water.

The announcement was shared in a statement from the EPA on April 10, 2024, celebrating the administration's efforts to stop exposing Americans to PFAS, which have been linked to everything from heart problems to cancer.

It will cost a lot of money to test, treat, and enforce the new standard—the total set aside for the overall package is currently at the $21 billion mark—but the EPA says that ensuring communities have access to clean drinking water is a priority for President Biden.

Ongoing studies have proven that almost half of the country's water supply is already contaminated, with some communities experiencing heavier concentrations of PFAS in their region.

The American Journal of Public Health published a study in March 2024 after finding that 47 percent of prison facilities are located in areas of the country with PFAS-contaminated watersheds, raising questions about the racial disparities involved when it comes to who gets access to clean water ... and who doesn't.

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Of course, carrying out this standard will involve a lot of cooperation from different leaders, including some at the federal level, down to local officials, who will need to help get testing information out to the public since the standard covers both public and private water systems. As for the removal part, it sounds like the EPA is floating a few different ideas.

Emerging technologies and proven methods — like activated carbon, ion exchanges, and reverse osmosis — are all listed as possible solutions. The government's plan aims to lower the maximum containment level to 4 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA and ten parts per trillion for GenX Chemicals like PFNA and PFHxS.

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Activist groups and clean water advocates are applauding this decision.

President of the Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook, was thrilled with the news. "More than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their tap water and for decades Americans have been exposed to toxic 'forever chemicals' with no oversight from their government," Cook said in a statement.

"That's because for generations, PFAS chemicals slid off of every federal environmental law like a fried egg off a Teflon pan—until Joe Biden came along."

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Similarly, Rob Billiot an advocate and attorney who has spent decades working in favor of clean water applauded the announcement. "Today we celebrate a huge — and long overdue — victory for public health in this country," Billiot said on April 10th.

"The EPA is finally moving forward to protect drinking water across the United States by adopting federally enforceable limits on some of the most toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative chemicals ever found in our nation's drinking water supply."

While the news may sound like it's just a small drop in a very large bucket of PFAS-contaminated water, it's the first major step in a series of changes that need to be made to reclaim our nation's drinking supply from the toxic chemicals that have been flowing into it for decades.

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