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EPA Formulating Regulations for PFOS & PFOA in Drinking Water

by Casey O'Leary

Recently, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was taking steps to regulate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in the nation’s drinking water supply. The decision comes following the lead of several states that already mandate lower levels of these “forever chemicals”. Until recently the EPA had only recommended that drinking water supplies limit PFOA and PFOS to 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This was only a voluntary guideline and not mandatory for states or municipalities to adhere to. Although the long-term health impacts that these chemicals have on people is still unclear, health experts are now beginning to call for stricter regulations when it comes to municipalities water treatment sites.

Problems with PFOA and PFOS in Drinking Water

PFOA and PFOS can collectively be categorized under the heading of Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Manufacturers used to employ these chemicals to make certain heat, stain, water and grease-resistant products like adhesives, polishes, paints, waxes, leather, firefighting foam, pesticides, non-stick pans, cosmetics, waterproof clothing, certain types of food packaging and much more.

Although they have not been used since 2002, these “PFAS” chemicals that do not break down in the water or soil. These chemicals now reside at varying levels, inside of a host of water and land animals, including humans. Although scientific studies about the health effects of PFAS contamination are ongoing, it is very concerning to scientists and health authorities. Evidence has emerged that PFAS have potential links to hormonal imbalances, liver disease, immune disorders, cholesterol levels, impaired fetal development and several types of cancer. In fact, PFAS have been classified as potentially carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Several States Already Regulate PFOA and PFOS Levels in Drinking Water

Several states in the Northeastern United States have already adopted or are in the process of adopting regulations or advisories that either meet, or go beyond, the regulations the EPA is now considering. For example, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are shooting for levels below 70 ppt. In many cases, much lower. Minnesota, Michigan, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Alaska are also heavily involved in regulating these chemicals in their drinking water systems.

What's Next for EPA Regulations of PFOA and PFOS

The EPA has now started a two-year evaluation period, during which it will work on collecting data to decide on a new maximum drinking water contamination level that should be enforced nationally. After this, another 18-month period will be used to establish and codify new drinking water quality requirements.

Water Treatment Technologies to Remove PFOA and PFOS from Drinking Water

States and municipalities that haven’t yet adopted regulations on PFAS in drinking water should be using this 3.5 year period to watch and prepare so they can meet or exceed the upcoming EPA regulations on PFOA and PFOA when they arrive. If you’re not sure where your water stands on PFAS, get in touch with Desalitech for a free water quality assessment and discuss your needs with Desalitech’s municipal water treatment experts at 1-617-564-1647.

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