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EPA sets limits on ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water for 1st time ever

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the nation’s first drinking water standard designed to protect communities from exposure to harmful and toxic substances known as “forever chemicals.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1940s to repel oil and water and resist heat.

They are called “forever chemicals” because most can take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down. According to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, those toxic substances could also be thought of as “everywhere chemicals” because of their widespread usage.

That includes products such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant clothing, firefighting foam, fast food packaging and even some cosmetics. After PFAS are released into the environment — into Earth’s water, soil and air — they don’t go away for generations.

The first-ever legally enforced drinking water standard limiting the chemicals will require water utilities across the nation to test for six types of PFAS. If harmful levels of the substances are detected, utility companies will need to take steps to clean up their drinking water.

The new standards will “reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses,” EPA officials said in a news release.

As part of the EPA’s efforts to combat PFAS pollution, the agency announced nearly $1 billion to help states and territories implement the required testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells to address PFAS contamination.

That money is part of a $9 billion investment through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law designed to help communities with drinking water impacted by PFAS.

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

The chemicals build up in the human body and long-time exposure has been linked to health issues including thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, preeclampsia, according to the Environmental Advocates of New York, a nonprofit that works to restore and protect New York’s environment.

Rob Hayes, the group’s director of clean water, applauded the announcement saying he was “thrilled” by Biden’s “historic action to protect New Yorkers from the hazards of PFAS exposure,” and urged state leaders to implement the regulations “immediately.”

“Nearly a decade has passed since the water crises in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh, and elsewhere in New York opened our eyes to the dangers of these forever chemicals,” Hayes told the Daily News in an email.

“The advocacy of these communities and so many others led directly to this victory today. EPA’s new drinking water standards will lead to cleaner water, healthier families, and stronger communities across the state,” he added.


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