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The student news site of Ward Melville High School

Kaleidoscope

The student news site of Ward Melville High School

Kaleidoscope

EPA Sets Limit on “Forever Chemicals” in Drinking Water

Image+Courtesy+of+Cristian+Palmer++on+Unsplash
Image Courtesy of Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

On April 10th, 2024, the EPA announced that it would enforce the first regulation on PFAS in the United States. After considering over 120,000 comments on the “forever chemicals”, the EPA has established maximum concentrations these substances are limited to in public water systems (Environmental Protection Agency). By doing so, the EPA looks to prevent Americans from being exposed to chemicals that have been linked to harmful health side effects.

 

Over 70 years ago, the first form of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) were created by Fritz Schloffer and Otto Scherer. While they originated in Germany, it took a couple decades until the first form of PFAS, polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE), became commercialized in the United States with the companies DuPont and 3M. However, with the creation of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), more commonly known as Teflon, PFAS chemicals became even more popular, with products ranging from non-stick cookware or nail polishes.

 

While PFAS chemicals were initially thought of as being safe, internal documents of various producers of these chemicals revealed otherwise. Their studies instead showed that the chemicals could harm human health. One of the first signs of this was when DuPont’s Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia moved 8 women away from their facilities after 2 of the employees’ children were born with birth defects. Many were skeptical of the company’s claims, such as the assurance that “During the period that C8 has been used at Washington Works, there is no known evidence that our employees have been exposed to C8 at levels that pose adverse health effects. There is a dose level where almost every chemical, even water, becomes poisonous. [C8] has a lower toxicity, like table salt,” (Time).

 

More recent scientific studies have revealed that these chemical companies were inaccurate and that there were risks to human health as a result of exposure to PFAS. Such risks include decreased fertility, increased high blood pressure, heightened risk of some cancers, and interference with natural hormones (EPA). With PFAS chemicals being found in some of the most commonly used consumer products, it has been estimated that 200 million people have experienced serious effects as a result of their exposure to them (EarthJustice). 

 

After decades of inaction over regulating the amount of PFAS that is permissible in water supplies, the Orange County Water District and others have filed lawsuits against Dynax America Corp. and Arkema Inc., top producers of these chemicals. With a South Carolina court settling cases worth more than $11 billion with 3M and DuPont, it is likely that future litigation will occur in a federal court (Reuters). While this money will be used for cleaning up PFAS contaminated water, more importantly, these cases have brought about change in the chemical’s regulation.

 

For the first time, the EPA has established limits to the amount of PFAS chemicals that are permissible in water. PFOA and PFOS, two kinds of PFAS chemicals, will be limited to 4 parts per trillion in public drinking water (NBC News). In addition, PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX chemicals will be restricted to 10 parts per trillion (NBC News). To ensure these restrictions are followed, the EPA has finalized a rule that requires producers of these chemicals to release information regarding their distribution and disposal.

 

With eleven states already having established regulation on PFAS chemicals, the EPA’s decision will expand legislation to the others (NBC News). Considering that PFAS producers have known about the chemicals’ adverse effects on public health, calls for their restriction have been answered. EPA Administrator Michael Regan says “One hundred million people will be healthier and safer because of this action,” (NBC News).

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