The Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited proposed standards for cancer-causing “forever chemicals” in drinking water on Tuesday. Once finalized, the standards will force states to begin the arduous and expensive process of cleaning their water supplies of some of the class of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. This marks the first time the EPA has proposed enforceable drinking water limits for PFAS, which are commonly known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down over time and can remain in the environment for years on end.
The proposed limits would cap two common types of PFAS contamination — the chemicals PFOA and PFOS — in drinking water at just 4 parts per trillion. That’s a significant reduction from the level the EPA suggested was safe as recently as 2016, when the agency put out a health advisory that suggested 70 parts per trillion as a maximum level for those types of PFAS in drinking water. This week’s announcement signals that federal regulators’ understanding of the health impacts of exposure to these chemicals is rapidly evolving and that the EPA now appears to believe that virtually no quantity of the chemicals is safe for human consumption.