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Safer Drinking Water Is Coming

November 22, 2021 – The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promises a future with safer drinking water.

The agency recently asked its scientific advisory board to review documents on the health effects of certain chemicals found in drinking water and elsewhere in the world. environment, with new data suggesting that health problems can occur at lower exposure levels than previously believed.

The chemicals in question are often referred to as “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down and easily accumulate in the environment and in the body. Known collectively as PFAS, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) have been linked to a variety of health issues. The EPA also says that PFOA is probably carcinogenic.

The chemicals are found not only in drinking water, but also in a range of everyday consumer products, from rain jackets and pizza boxes, to paper items and non-stick cookware. One of the benefits is the ability of chemicals to repel dirt, rain, and grease.

EPA’s action “is an important first step, but there is important work to be done,” said David Andrews, PhD, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit promoting better Environmental Protection. health.

EPA’s action is not the only recent action to tackle PFAS contaminants. Last week, a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress would ban “chemicals forever” from food packaging, with a proposed effective date of January 1, 2024.

And the infrastructure bill just signed by President Joe Biden includes $ 10 billion to tackle emerging contaminants in drinking water, including PFAS.

EPA’s Drinking Water Efforts

Once the EPA Scientific Advisory Board reviews the new scans, which are available to the public on the EPA website, the information will be used by the EPA to inform health advisories and to develop goals. maximum level of contaminants and primary national drinking water regulations for both chemicals.

Regarding the timelines, the EPA says it will “move as quickly as possible to issue updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS after reviewing the new science and obtaining comments from the science advisory board. According to a press release issued by the EPA. The notices are not binding or statutory; they are intended to inform States and public health officials about the health effects linked to the contamination of drinking water.

As it examines the new science, the EPA says it will work on developing the proposed drinking water regulations for publication in fall 2022, with an effective date of 2023. .

Previously, the EPA had established a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water to protect the public from exposure to PFOA and PFOS. The four draft documents containing new data “indicated that adverse health effects could occur at levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS well below those previously believed and that PFOA is a probable carcinogen” , according to the EPA.

While manufacturers have largely abandoned production of the chemicals in the United States, the chemicals are extremely stable and persist in the environment.

Underlying concerns

These chemicals are so prevalent that most people in the United States have been exposed and have PFOS and PFOA in their blood, CDC said.

According to the EPA, human studies have linked PFOA exposure to high cholesterol, decreased vaccine response, increased liver enzymes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and preeclampsia. , as well as testicular and kidney cancers. Exposure to PFOS has been linked to high cholesterol and adverse effects on reproduction and development. effects.

While the production and use of PFOA and PFOS have declined since 2002, the CDC says blood levels have increased from 60% to 80%.

More perspectives

“This is a very important change in the assessment of PFOS and PFOA [by the EPA]”Says Andrews of the Environmental Working Group.” In the documents, the EPA first relied on studies of the impact of PFAS on human health “rather than animal studies.” , the agency changed its position on the security levels of exposure.”

The latest data indicate that “negative health effects can occur at much lower levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS than previously believed and that PFOA is a probable carcinogen,” Andrews notes in a report. press release from the environmental working group.

EPA’s previous assumptions on safety levels “have underestimated or miscalculated potential human damage,” Andrews said.

Travis Loop, spokesperson for the Water Environment Federation, whose members include utilities for sanitation in the United States, said his organization also supports “actions and regulations for PFAS that are based on credible science. and developed after careful deliberation “. Water utilities are receivers, not producers, of PFAS, and need regulations and laws to limit exposure, he says.

Some states will not wait

Frustrated by the EPA’s timeline, with the 2023 target date for the regulation to come into effect, officials in some states have moved forward to establish their own regulations on PFAS limits in drinking water. The National Conference of State Legislatures is monitoring these efforts.

Some states, including Michigan and New Jersey, have already set limits for PFAS in drinking water that are more stringent than the current EPA limits.

Individual efforts

Safer Chemicals, Healthier Families is an organization that seeks strong chemical policies and educates the public on how to protect families from toxic chemicals.

Its website has updates on progress and suggestions on how to write to companies to tackle contaminants in their products. Current efforts include campaigns for REI to stop producing outdoor gear products with PFAS and for Burger King to stop packaging its Whoppers in packaging containing the chemicals.

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