EPA announces PFAS drinking water health advisory, more stringent than Wisconsin’s regulations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or EPA on Wednesday took a small step toward regulating a few PFAS, known as forever chemicals. They number in the thousands, don’t break down in the environment, and are found in many products, from firefighting foam and fast-food packaging to stain-resistant fabrics.
PFAS not only persist in the environment, but in the human body too. The chemicals have been linked to cancer, thyroid, and heart issues as well as developmental delays and other health issues.
Shore is regional administrator for EPA’s Region 5, which includes Wisconsin.
“Indeed, just this morning headquarters’ office of water made an announcement of a new interim health advisory for four of the chemicals that are part of this large suite that we refer to as PFAS. This is not regulatory, not an enforcement measure, but a health advisory that lowers the levels that we think are protective of human health by of magnitude more than we’ve seen before,” Shore said. “It’s taken time, but science takes time.”
The EPA’s official announcement describes the drinking water health advisories as a key input that can be used to build a case for water quality monitoring, changing drinking water sources or modifying treatment to reduce exposure.
Shore says the advisories could lead to Congressional action. “We’re on a path by the end of this year to have some new proposals for regulations that may go into rulemaking in 2023,” she told the Marquette audience.
The EPA’s announcement also included an invitation. States and territories can apply for $1 billion to address PFAS and other emerging contaminant in drinking water. The EPA is specifically targeting small or disadvantaged communities.
“And that’s on top of about $7 billion in various drinking water and state revolving loan funds that be addressed to emerging contaminants, which are these PFAS,” Shore said.
DNR secretary Preston Cole shared the stage with Shore Wednesday.
Wisconsin has been grappling with an ever-increasing number of communities that have discovered PFAS in both private and municipal wells. Some communities have had to turn to bottled water.
Cole says his agency is investigating PFAS in 97 sites throughout the state. “We know these chemicals harm us as people,” Cole says simply.
As if building his case before a skeptical audience, Cole says clean water is not just good for the environment and public health, Wisconsin’s economy is tied to clean water.
“We have an $18 billion outdoor recreation economy. So for those 97 sites, we have encumbered by PFAS, all of these economies this summer are hoping that people show up in their cities, towns and villages so that they can get on the water and drink the water and fish and enjoy all that Wisconsin has to offer,” Cole said. “That’s what’s at stake.”
The Wisconsin DNR has been working toward basic PFAS drinking water regulations, as well as for surface and ground water.
After a long, heated debate, the drinking water standards will soon be enacted.
“I’ll be able sign the document, and it will show up on the Wisconsin Administrative Register. The rules will go into effect a month after that publication, and we’ll begin that work in earnest,” Cole says.
Wisconsin’s standard is 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA found in drinking water.
The EPA’s new health standard recommendation is significantly more stringent, which is 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS.
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