Statement: EPA advises stronger limits on levels of toxic PFAS chemicals to protect Americans’ health

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Taran Volckhausen

Former Communications Associate, The Public Interest Network

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Wednesday new health advisories for four of the most common toxic PFAS chemicals that pollute drinking water nationwide. These official EPA actions “provide technical information to drinking water system operators, as well as federal, state, Tribal, and local officials, on the health effects, analytical methods, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contaminants.” In addition, the EPA announced the first round of funding to help clean up these so-called “forever chemicals” in public water systems. However, the EPA does not have the authority to enforce any PFAS standard associated with the health advisory.

PFAS, a class of more than 12,000 toxic chemicals, are used to add grease- and water-resistant properties to many consumer products, including food packaging, carpets and clothing. Until now, the federal regulatory body has only set health advisory levels for two types of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS. The advisories’ new suggested maximum levels of all four relevant PFAS are lower than previous thresholds. For PFOA and PFOS, the new standards are dramatically lower — acknowledging the toxicity of these chemicals at extremely low levels.

At the same time, the EPA included health advisory recommendations for the maximum levels of two other types of PFAS: PFBS and GenX. The development of stronger, more comprehensive health advisories, as well as the funding of the clean-up, are part of the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, designed to address growing PFAS contamination throughout the United States.

The manufacture, use and disposal of products containing PFAS has tainted drinking water sources for 200 million Americans. Known as “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment and human body, PFAS, even when people are exposed in small amounts over time, have been linked to serious health problems, including kidney and liver disease, birth defects and cancer.

In response, experts from PIRG and Environment America issued the following statements:

“Toxic PFAS chemicals should be kept far away from our food, bodies and waterways. But sadly, dangerous PFAS chemicals are found in way too many everyday products. While the EPA’s new health advisories for PFAS in drinking water take us in the right direction, the agency is still falling short of addressing the entire class of more than 12,000 PFAS chemicals,” said Emily Rogers, PIRG’s Zero Out Toxics advocate. “The EPA needs to build on these advisories by pursuing more comprehensive and enforceable restrictions that protect our communities from all PFAS pollution.”

“It’s already well established that PFAS pollution is widespread across the country,” said John Rumpler, senior director of Environment America’s clean water program. “EPA scientists have confirmed that PFAS chemicals, even at very low levels, present a serious threat to our health and environment. There is really only one way out of this toxic morass: We need to phase out the use of toxic forever chemicals as soon as possible.”