The Environmental Protection Agency will require utilities to monitor the levels of toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in water systems, in what amounts to the first action the federal government has taken to set limits on PFAS pollution, according to a new regulation proposed by the agency on Tuesday.
Found in everything from clothing products and cooking appliances, to dental floss, firefighting foam and food packaging, PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” have been linked to a range of health problems, including liver damage, certain forms of cancer, birth defects, immune system problems, asthma, among other health effects. The man-made chemicals are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily degrade, and “have been found in the blood and breast milk of people and wildlife all round the world,” experts note.
The new rule will require that certain forever chemicals be limited in water systems to 4 parts per trillion—the lowest level that can be detected in current testing. Prior to Tuesday’s regulation, there were no regulations on the books whatsoever—only voluntary health advisories that delineated recommended limits.
“This is the culmination of many years of effort, with a lot of states having already made their own [maximum contaminant levels],” says Phil Brown, university distinguished professor of sociology and health sciences at Northeastern. “We knew this was coming—and we were very impatient for it.”
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