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On June 15th, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new, stricter advisory limits of four “forever chemicals” and dramatically cut the recommended safe limits of exposure to these chemicals.
How dramatic was this advice? The new standards set by the EPA work as advisories that state regulators will use to restrict these chemicals. The new advisory from the EPA suggests limiting these chemicals PFOS to 0.02 parts per trillion and PFOA to 0.004 parts per trillion.
Yes, you read that right: a quadrillionth of a part is deemed unsafe.
To put this shocking advisory in perspective, noted PFAS expert David Andrews, Ph.D. of Environmental Working Group noted on twitter:
Critics called the move "baby steps," because the limits are simply advisory and do not address the remaining 9,000 forever chemical compounds.
These Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) substances are referred to as “forever chemicals” because this class of chemicals never break down within the natural environment. PFAS are used in products that are resistant to stains, heat, and water, but their resistant qualities are what allow them to pose such an environmental threat.
You can find PFAS in products like fire-fighting foam, fast food packaging and containers, pizza boxes, and nonstick cookware. Studies link these dangerous chemicals in very low quantities to be birth defects, cancer, hormone disruption, weakened immune systems, and reproductive problems.
Forever chemicals are are everywhere. They contaminate the drinking water for more than 200 million Americans. In addition to the new advisory limits, the EPA also set restrictions on two newer generation PFAS, called Gen X and PFBS, which were once thought to be safer alternatives to older forever chemicals. These PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer and liver disease.
The EPA also announced that in the fall of 2022, it will set mandatory standards for a myriad of other forever chemicals as well. Further, the agency plans to dedicate $ 1 billion dollars in funding to various states and Native American nations to remove these chemicals from their environments.
Note that these are likely not the final standards because these advisories are based on the impact of chemical exposure to health. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires a balancing of the costs of clean up with the health-based standard. If EPA regulates these chemicals and issues an actual drinking water standard, it will be the first drinking water standard issued since 1996.
Intern Hudson Baker is an upcoming senior in environmental studies and psychology at Hobart & William Smith College in New York. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.