The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed limits on six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. If enacted, these limits would require public drinking water utilities to reduce the levels of these chemicals, which have been linked to cancers and other illnesses. The EPA published voluntary limits for some PFAS in June of 2022.
PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are extremely stable and take many years to break down in the environment or in living creatures. They are widely used in manufacturing because of their durability and because many of them repel water or oils. Fabric manufacturers use them to prevent stains or for waterproofing. Teflon is a trade name for a PFAS chemical used to make cooking pans nonstick. Others show up in firefighting foams, which has led to groundwater contamination around military bases. Still others are used in plastics manufacturing, which has led to their persistence on the fake grass blades of synthetic turf.
These forever chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment, though they can accumulate in living tissue such as in the flesh of freshwater fish.
The proposed rule would limit perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) to 4 parts per trillion. Levels of four other chemicals, perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid (HFPO-DA, commonly known as GenX chemicals), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), would be set at 1 part per trillion.