June 16, 2022 – It turns out that those so-called “forever chemicals” are worse for human health than previously thought, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said this week.

The EPA on Wednesday announced four new drinking water advisory limits for chemicals in the perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl family, commonly known as PFAS. PFAS are lab-made chemicals that have been used for decades in common household products like cookware and stain-resistant fabrics.

They can also be found in fast-food wrappers, cosmetic products, and drinking water. They are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in nature and can build up in the body over time. PFAS have been linked to thyroid problems, immune system issues, decreased birth weights, and various types of cancer.

In a nutshell, the EPA’s new health advisories say that these chemicals pose health risks even at low levels in drinking water. In the new advisories, the EPA guidelines recommend limited lifetime exposure levels to two of the most common PFAS chemicals known as PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) to near zero, at 0.004 parts per trillion and 0.02 parts per trillion, respectively. This is a drastic reduction from the agency’s 2016 health advisory set at 70 parts per trillion.

The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect at this time,” the agency said in a news release. “The lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health.”

The levels that the EPA now says are safe are 3,500 times lower than what they originally thought acceptable, USA Todayreported.

“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EPA on Wednesday also invited states and territories to apply for $1 billion in grant funding to help communities -- specifically those that are “small or disadvantaged” -- affected by PFAS contamination. This funding will be the first of $5 billion issued from 2022 until 2026. These efforts come ahead of proposed legalization by the EPA for further PFAS regulation, which will be released in the fall of 2022, according to the agency.

When announcing the new advisories, the EPA also issued first-time health advisories for two additional PFAS compounds -- PFBS (perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt) and “GenX” chemicals (hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt) -- which are considered substitutes for PFOA and PFOS.

“The GenX chemicals and PFBS health advisory levels are well above the level of detection, based on risk analyses in recent scientific studies,” agency officials said in the news release.

Although the production of PFOA and PFOS has decreased since 2002, and the CDC estimates that the levels of PFOA and PFOS in blood have decreased between 1999 and 2014, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences estimates that nearly all Americans (97%) have some level of PFAS in their blood.

“No one should have to worry about the safety of their drinking water,” said Melanie Benesh, the Environmental Working Group’s legislative attorney, in a statement. “These proposed advisory levels demonstrate that we must move much faster to dramatically reduce exposures to these toxic chemicals.”

Show Sources

EPA: “EPA Announces New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS Chemicals, $1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding to Strengthen Health Protections,” June 15, 2022.

EPA: “Technical Fact Sheet: Drinking Water Health Advisories for four PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, GenX chemicals, and PFBS),” June 2022.

NIEHS: “Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)” last reviewed June 13, 2022.

CDC: “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health” last reviewed June 24, 2020.

Washington Post: “EPA warns toxic ‘forever chemicals’ more dangerous than once thought” June 15, 2022.

EPA: “Emerging Contaminants (EC) in Small or Disadvantaged Communities Grant (SDC)” June 15, 2022.

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