PFAS pollution addressed with first-ever national drinking water standard

The EPA has announced $1bn in funding through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to address PFAS pollution in drinking water.

The Biden-Harris Administration issued the first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) pollution.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, impacts on the liver and heart, and developmental damage to infants and children.

The drinking water standard represents the most significant step in protecting public health under EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap.

It will reduce the exposure of around 100 million people to PFAS pollution, preventing thousands of deaths and reducing tens of thousands of serious illnesses.

What are the problems with PFAS pollution?

PFAS, often referred to as forever chemicals, have attracted global attention due to their extreme presence in the environment.

Some forms of PFAS can take more than 1,000 years to degrade. PFAS pollution can threaten soil health, and due to their persistence in the environment, there are no straightforward solutions for cleanup.

PFAS can have harmful health effects in addition to environmental impacts. Almost every person on the planet has PFAS in their blood, and if these levels are too high, there is a greater risk of a weakened immune system.

Ensuring clean and safe water

The EPA’s funding is set to ensure the availability of clean and safe water.

The funding is part of a $9bn investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities with drinking water impacted by PFAS and other emerging contaminants. This is the largest-ever investment in tackling PFAS pollution.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, an additional $12bn is available for general drinking water, including addressing emerging contaminants like PFAS.

“Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

“That is why President Biden has made tackling PFAS a top priority, investing historic resources to address these harmful chemicals and protect communities nationwide.”

The rule will establish legally enforceable levels for PFAS

The EPA is taking a signature step to protect public health by establishing legally enforceable levels for several PFAS known to occur individually and as a mixture in drinking water.

The rule sets limits for five individual PFAS: PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA.

It is estimated that between 6-10% of the 66,000 public drinking water systems subject to this rule may have to take action to reduce PFAS to meet the new standards.

All public water systems have three years to complete their initial monitoring of these chemicals. Where PFAS is found at levels that exceed the standard, solutions to reduce PFAS pollution must be implemented within five years.

The EPA will work closely with state co-regulators in supporting water systems and local officials to implement this rule.

PFAS-free solutions

Limiting PFAS pollution is vital for environmental sustainability and to protect communities from serious health impacts.

Alternative approaches, such as granular activated carbon, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange systems, can achieve the new limits set by the national drinking water standard.

As well as in drinking water, PFAS are also found in everyday items such as cosmetics, food packaging, and textiles.

The ZeroF project, funded by the EU and SERI, is aiming to develop safe and sustainable coating alternatives for the food packaging and textiles industries.

The new coating is derived from renewable feedstock and maintains performance and cost parity.

Regulation and innovative solutions, like those offered by the ZeroF project, offer promising pathways to reducing PFAS pollution and safeguarding health and the environment.

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