EPA announces proposed regulations of ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

EPA administrator Michael S. Regan spoke on a new proposal to set limits on six PFAS chemicals during a news conference Tuesday morning at the UNCW.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 1:49 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NORTH CAROLINA (WBTV) - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans for the first-ever drinking water standard for several different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances --- better known as PFAS. For years these substances have been used in different manufacturing processes and have been introduced into drinking water across North Carolina.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, formerly the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced the plans on Tuesday morning in Wilmington --- a city impacted by PFAS due to exposure of the substances into the Cape Fear River and ground water basin.

RELATED: “We don’t want to raise a red flag, per se, but perhaps a yellow flag”: NC State researchers look at PFAS impacts on immune systems

“Through this action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking a major step to protect public health from PFAS pollution, leveraging the latest science and complementing state efforts to limit PFAS by proposing to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS known to occur in drinking water,” according to a press release from the EPA.

Southeastern NC isn’t the only place in the state where PFAS have been detected in drinking water.

In the Charlotte Metro area PFOA have been detected above the regulatory levels of 4 ppt in Gaston County as well as Lincoln County.

RELATED: EPA proposes regulation establishing enforceable limits on PFAS in drinking water

The toxic risks of PFAS and related substances are largely unknown, however, efforts to increase testing and study the health impacts these substances have on humans. Despite knowing there are some adverse health effects of PFAS the EPA has not set any legally enforceable levels of the substances.

“This proposal builds on other key milestones to combat PFAS, including EPA’s proposal to designate two PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances; enhancing data on PFAS under EPA’s National PFAS Testing Strategy and through nationwide sampling for 29 PFAS in public drinking water systems,” according to the EPA.

It’s not just North Carolina either, Regan said these chemicals have been found nationwide.

“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution. That’s why President Biden launched a whole-of-government approach to aggressively confront these harmful chemicals, and EPA is leading the way forward,” Regan said.

“EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities. This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”

The proposal is not a done deal yet but if it is approved it will regulate PFOA, PFOS, and four additional PFAS as a ‘mixture.’

Those include:

  • “PFOA and PFOS: EPA is proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at 4 parts per trillion.
  • PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.”

A problem for water providers

Mike McGill, President of WaterPIO, a public communications company that deals exclusively with water-related and wastewater communications said the proposal will likely present serious challenges to water providers across the country. McGill is clear his statements are not suggesting that PFAS are safe in drinking water but the cost to mitigate contaminates can be unattainable for some.

“We are not - in any way - disputing that at moderate to high levels PFOA and PFOS pose adverse health impacts. Not at all. However, at the proposed MCLs & “Hazard Index” being announced today we don’t have the proof needed to require billions of dollars of advanced treatment,” he said.

In the Cape Fear Region efforts to remove PFAS contaminates from drinking water have cost millions of dollars.

In Wilmington the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority spent $35.9 million to build a granular activated carbon treatment facility to remove PFAS from the water supply. It’s an expensive price tag that many water providers could struggle to afford.

But, the proposal will require water providers to monitor and reduce PFAS levels.

“If finalized, the proposed regulation will require public water systems to monitor for these chemicals. It will also require systems to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards. EPA anticipates that if fully implemented, the rule will, over time, prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses,” the EPA said.

Get the latest updates sent straight to your device by downloading the free WBTV News app today.