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U.S. EPA announces rule limiting PFAS in drinking water

Graphic showing PFAS and products containing the compounds
Francesco Scatena
The U.S. EPA also announced $1 billion in funding for testing and upgrades for public drinking water systems and private wells.

The U.S. EPA announced Wednesday legally enforceable standards to limit the amount of so-called forever chemicals called PFAS allowed in public drinking water systems.

PFAS are a class of long-lasting chemicals that can be harmful to the environment and are linked to high cholesterol, low birth weight and cancer.

The U.S. EPA regulation sets enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels on different types of PFAS based on public health research.

The new standards are expected to protect 100 million people from PFAS exposure, U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

"We listened to all stakeholders when crafting this rule. Affected communities, bipartisan congressional allies, leaders at the state and local level, and utilities," he said. "The result is a comprehensive and life changing rule, one that will improve the health and vitality of so many communities across our country."

Public water systems have three years to conduct drinking water testing and two additional years to update their treatment processes to bring the PFAS levels into compliance.

The U.S. EPA also announced $1 billion in federal funding to support testing and upgrades for public drinking water systems and private wells to bring them into compliance with new PFAS contamination limits.

The new standards, announced today, define Maximum Contaminant Levels for several types of PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS set at 4 parts per trillion and 10 parts per trillion for PFNA, PFHxS and GenX chemicals. Separate limits will be set for mixtures of PFAS in drinking water.

The funding, available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help ensure changes are made within the five years, Regan said.

"This rule sets forth clear timeframes for implementation, and we know it can be achieved using a range of available technologies and approaches that many water systems are using today," he said. "At the same time, we know that water systems need help."

The EPA expects between 6% and 10% of public water systems to be affected by this regulation, Regan said but that figure could change after the mandated testing.

The $1 billion in funding will be available to public water systems and owners of private wells through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund grants.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.