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Last fall, EPA administrator Michael Regan visited North Carolina to announce the Biden administration's PFAS Strategic Roadmap to safeguard communities from PFAS pollution. Yesterday, the agency announced drinking water health advisories for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – GenX, PFOA, PFOS and PFBS. Based on the best available science, these advisories have taken into account lifetime exposure to these PFAS compounds.
Having already been linked to infertility, thyroid problems and several types of cancer, the EPA warned that these chemicals pose a greater danger to human health than previously believed. Recent human health studies indicate that lifetime exposure at barely detectable levels of 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS can compromise the immune and cardiovascular systems and are linked to decreased birth weights.
“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” said Regan in a media release.
These new drinking-water concentrations levels are significantly lower than the 2016 health advisories which set the safe levels at 70 parts per trillion and will remain in place until the mandatory standards are released in the fall. Once finalized, water utilities will face penalties if they neglect to meet them.
Data on the PFOA and PFOS levels in North Carolina’s private drinking water wells and public water systems are limited but available sampling indicates the presence of one or both compounds in public water systems across the state.
The announcement came on the first day of the 3rd National PFAS Conference in Wilmington. This year’s three-day conference, Highly Fluorinated Compounds – Environmental Justice and Scientific Discovery, is hosted by NC State’s Center for Environmental and Health Effects of PFAS and Cape Fear Community College.
“Today’s actions highlight EPA’s commitment to use the best available science to tackle PFAS pollution, protect public health, and provide critical information quickly and transparently,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, Radhika Fox who attended the conference..
Many manufacturers have already stopped using PFOA and PFOS. GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and PFBS is considered a replacement for PFOS. However, research has indicated that they are also dangerous even at relatively low levels.
Many health advocates criticized the decision to regulate just two of the thousands of compounds instead of the entire category. Fox said the agency is exploring options about ways to propose a rule for the entire group of chemicals.
The next step will be a proposed PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation in fall 2022. As EPA develops this proposed rule, the agency is also evaluating additional PFAS beyond PFOA and PFOS and considering actions to address groups of PFAS. The interim health advisories will provide guidance to states, Tribes and water systems for the period prior to the regulation going into effect.