Your Tap Water Is Filthy, but That Could Finally Change

5 days ago 29

Following years of concern, the US Environmental Protection Agency moved this week to clean up drinking water, announcing the nation’s first standards for six “forever chemicals” found in tap water. It’s a foreboding and informal name for human-made chemicals that coat nonstick pans, food packaging, and waterproof clothes before ending up in the water you drink. These chemicals, known as PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are pervasive and found in pretty much everyone—even newborn babies.

If the EPA rule is finalized, public water companies will need to monitor for the chemicals and keep two widely studied ones, PFOA and PFOS, below levels of 4 parts per trillion—around the lowest threshold measurable. The rule will also regulate combined amounts of four other types of PFAS chemicals. 

Experts say the proposal is monumental. It marks not just the first US national standard for regulating levels of these chemicals, but would also allow for widespread data collection to see which communities are most affected by contamination. Implementing these much needed fixes could take years and will be costly. Still, experts see this as a significant first step in pushing back against the PFAS problem, and one that could vastly improve water quality across the nation. 

“These are very strong, health protective, and a historic move to really limit exposure to contamination from these chemicals,” says David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit focused on health and environmental advocacy. “There are lots of opportunities to build off of this.” 

The PFAS regulation is not yet a reality; it's a proposed measure that could be finalized this year after a public comment period. If it is formally adopted, it will result in new expenses for many public water systems, requiring not only testing but filtering water when contaminants are detected. The utilities would have three years to comply with the rule, so some communities might not see results until 2026. 

The dangers of PFAS chemicals have become increasingly clear. High...

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