In a landmark move, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Wednesday the first-ever national standard to restrict the levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals,” in drinking water. This groundbreaking regulation marks a significant step in the Biden administration’s broader environmental agenda and aims to safeguard public health from the dangers posed by these pervasive contaminants.

PFAS, notorious for their inability to break down in the environment and in the human body, have been linked to a range of serious health issues, including cancer, liver damage, infertility, and immune system dysfunction. These chemicals have been widely used since the 1940s in various industrial applications and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent fabrics, and firefighting foams, leading to widespread contamination of water supplies across the United States.

The EPA’s new rule targets two of the most common and hazardous PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, limiting their presence in drinking water to the lowest detectable levels. The agency has also proposed regulations for additional PFAS compounds and is calling for increased monitoring and reporting to better understand the extent of contamination and its impact on public health.

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“Today, I’m extremely excited to announce that we are finalizing the first ever nationwide, legally enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS — the most significant action on PFAS the EPA has ever taken,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said during a call with reporters. “This standard will reduce PFAS exposure to approximately 100 million people.”

Environmental and public health advocates have hailed the EPA’s action as a critical step forward, while some industry representatives and political figures argue that the regulations could impose significant costs on businesses and local governments. The EPA, however, contends that the benefits of reducing PFAS exposure—preventing tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and saving billions in healthcare costs—far outweigh the economic implications of compliance.

Under the new rules, water systems across the country will have three years to detect the presence of PFAS and another two years to implement technologies to purge the chemicals, with 2029 serving as the deadline to complete the overhauls. $1 billion carved out by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be made available to assist with this process. The EPA did not clarify what consequences will be leveled against utility companies that do not comply.

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When the EPA first hinted at these regulations last summer, the American Chemistry Council released a statement criticizing the decision, saying that the agency’s analysis was based on flawed data. The group also warned that the government was severely underestimating how much the water system overhauls would cost.

However, the Biden administration expressed confidence that the EPA guidelines will survive these challenges, stating “we have designed a very durable rule, well within our statutory authority, that begins to protect people from harmful pollutants that are showing up in their drinking water.”

“This is something that we’ve done in concert with our sister agencies,” an administration official continued. “It’s a government-wide effort, and we’re very proud of the product that we are releasing today.”

Connor Walcott is a staff writer for Follow Connor on X and look for him on VT’s “The Unusual Suspects.”

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