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EPA Limits Just 6 of 14,000 PFAS “Forever Chemicals”

EPA Limits Just 6 of 14,000 PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
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The EPA has issued a final regulation limiting six PFAS “forever chemicals” in drinking water. This shows our advocacy is working—let’s keep up the pressure! Action Alert!


  • The EPA has issued a final regulation limiting six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals in drinking water.
  • This is a good step, but we need far more action to safeguard our health. Setting standards on six PFAS is good, but what about the other 13,994-odd PFAS chemicals lurking in the environment and in our bodies?
  • We can’t wait for the EPA to go through one chemical at a time—we need to keep fighting for a complete ban on these dangerous chemicals

The EPA’s new drinking water standards are similar to the proposal issued last year. Now that the rule is final, public water systems will be required to monitor for these six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), notify the public of the levels detected in water, and reduce the levels of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the standards. This is a significant step towards protecting public health, but much more needs to be done, so we need to keep up the pressure on Congress and the EPA to address PFAS contamination.

We want to thank ANH members who have been sending action alerts on this issue. Policy change is hard, and it takes sustained, dedicated effort on the part of activists like you to move the needle. We appreciate your energy and activism!

The EPA proposed drinking water standards for PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and HFPO-DA. As we argued when commenting on the proposed rule, while it is a good thing that these limits are in place, industry influence is apparent. The Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water are 4 parts per trillion (ppt) each. But in 2022, the agency issued updated interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. In that update, the agency states that the newest science available demonstrates that no level of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water is safe:

The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero [emphasis added].

The limits proposed in the interim update were 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS. Why are the EPA’s enforceable standards for PFOS and PFOA considerably higher than the levels they previously said were safe? Undoubtedly this is due to chemical industry influence.

The other issue, of course, is that while (finally) setting enforceable standards on six PFAS is a start, there are about 14,000 PFAS chemicals. It has taken decades to set standards on PFOS and PFOA, two chemicals that are no longer in production in the US. It simply is not feasible to wait for the EPA to go through the motions on the 13,994 other PFAS before we can have drinking water that is PFAS-free.

>>>Read our pilot study finding PFAS in supermarket kale

It may seem strange that chemicals that have been phased out of production in the US need to be restricted, but this speaks to the pressing need to regulate PFAS as a class. PFOA and PFOS are still found in large quantities in the environment and even in Americans’ blood. This is because PFAS are highly persistent in the environment, which is why they are referred to as “forever chemicals.” Monitoring studies of PFAS have demonstrated ubiquitous distribution in the environment, including humans, animals, drinking water, food crops, as well as remote areas of the Earth. PFAS accumulate in human tissue and organs, have the potential to travel over great distances, and have toxic effects on the environment and human health. In previous articles we’ve covered the many negative health effects associated with these chemicals.

We have enough evidence to know that these chemicals pose a real threat to our health. If we hope to stem the tide of contamination that threatens our health, the health of our children, and the health of the environment, we cannot play PFAS whack-a-mole; we must ban these chemicals as a class.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and the EPA, urging them to ban PFAS as a class to protect public health. Please send your message immediately.

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