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U.S. looks to impose strict limits on ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water – National

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed the first federal restrictions on harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water. The agency is a much-needed protection that it said would save thousands of lives and prevent serious diseases, including cancer.

This plan limits toxic PFAS chemicals to the lowest levels detectable by testing. PFAS, or perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances, are a group of compounds that are pervasive, dangerous, and expensive to remove from water. They are not degraded in the environment and are associated with various health problems, including low birth weight infants and kidney cancer.

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“Science shows that long-term exposure to PFAS is associated with significant health risks,” Radhika Fox, EPA’s Deputy Administrator for Water, said in an interview.

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Fox called the federal proposal a “transformation” to improve drinking water safety in the United States. The FDA estimates that the rule will reduce her PFAS exposure for nearly 100 million Americans, lowering rates of cancer, heart attacks and birth complications.

These chemicals have been used in consumer goods and industry since the 1940s, such as nonstick frying pans, food packaging, and firefighting foams. Their use is now mostly phased out in the United States, but some still remain.

The proposal sets a tight limit of 4ppt, the lowest level that can be reliably measured, for two common types of PFAS compounds called PFOA and PFOS. Additionally, EPA would like to regulate the combined amount of the other four PFASs. The water utility should monitor her PFAS.

The public will have an opportunity to comment and agencies can make changes before issuing final rules, which are expected by the end of the year.

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The State Drinking Water Managers Association called the proposal a “step in the right direction” but said compliance would be difficult. Despite available federal funds, PFAS would have to be removed “major rate hikes would be required in most systems,” the group said on Tuesday.

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Environmental and public health advocates have been calling for federal regulation of PFAS chemicals for years. Over the past decade, the EPA has repeatedly strengthened protective, voluntary health standards for chemicals, but has not imposed mandatory restrictions on water providers.

In recent years, a growing list of communities, often located near manufacturing plants or air force bases, has increased public interest as testing reveals PFAS chemicals.

To date, only a handful of states have issued PFAS regulations, and none have set limits as stringent as the EPA has proposed. By regulating PFOA and PFOS at the lowest amount he can detect in a test, the EPA is proposing the most stringent standards technically feasible, the expert said.

“This is a truly historic moment. There are many communities who have had PFAS in their water for decades who have waited a long time for this announcement to come out.”

The agency said its proposals would protect everyone, including vulnerable communities, and reduce disease on a large scale. and to remove the compound if the levels are too high.

Utilities with high levels of pollutants are usually given time to fix the problem, but if the problem persists, they could face fines and loss of federal aid.

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The American Chemical Society, which represents big chemical companies, condemned the EPA’s “misguided approach,” saying that “these low limits are likely to result in billions of dollars in compliance costs.”

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In a statement Tuesday, the group said it had “serious concerns about the underlying science used to develop” the proposed rule and said it was “important for EPA to get the science right.” added.

The proposal would also regulate other types of PFAS such as GenX Chemicals, which manufacturers used as replacements when PFOA and PFOS were phased out of consumer products. The proposal would regulate the cumulative health threat of these compounds and mandate treatment if that threat is too high.

“Have communities across this country suffered for too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS contamination?” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. Related diseases can be prevented and it is “a big step towards protecting all communities from these dangerous pollutants,” he said.

Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, which advocates cleanup of PFAS-contaminated areas in North Carolina, said it was important to make people who released the compounds into the environment pay for the cleanup. .

The EPA recently made $2 billion available to states to clean up contaminants such as PFAS, and plans to release billions more in the future. The agency also provides technical support to small communities that will soon be forced to install treatment systems, and the 2021 Infrastructure Act provides funding for water system upgrades.

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Still, it is expensive for power companies to install new equipment, especially in small towns with few resources.

“This is not the utility’s own fault, it’s a problem passed on to them,” said Sri Vedhachalam, director of water equity and climate resilience at Environmental Consulting & Technology.

Many communities will have to balance new PFAS requirements by removing toxic lead pipes and replacing aging water mains that are prone to bursting, Vedachalam said.

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Fox said there is “no one-size-fits-all answer” on how communities can prioritize their needs, but said billions of dollars in federal funding are available for water improvements.

With federal support, water utilities serving metropolitan areas should be able to spread costs in a way that “no one will notice,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. said Mr. Toxic chemicals from food, water, clothing and other items.

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Several states have already imposed PFAS drinking water limits. An official in Michigan, which has the strictest standards of any state, said the cost of removing PFAS in communities where he found it was reasonable.

Eric Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the EPA’s proposal is essential to protect public health. “By setting strict standards, we can ensure that every family has a basic right to safe water running from the kitchen tap,” he said.

— Phyllis, reporting from St. Louis.

The Associated Press is supported by The Walton Family Foundation for its coverage of water and environmental policy. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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