EPA’s plan to regulate chemical contaminants in drinking water is a drop in the bucket

Read the full story at The Conversation.

After more than a year of community meetings and deliberations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in February 2019 that it would begin the process of regulating two drinking water contaminants, seeking to stem a growing national public health crisis. If EPA follows through, this would be the first time in nearly 20 years that it has set an enforceable standard for a new chemical contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The chemicals at issue, PFOA and PFOS, have contaminated drinking water supplies across the country affecting millions of Americans. They belong to a class of synthetic chemicals called PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, that are widely used in products including firefighting foams, waterproof apparel, stain-resistant furniture, food packagingand even dental floss.

These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, including cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low birth weight and effects on the immune system. Studies show exposure to PFAS in children can dampen the effectiveness of vaccines – a topic my colleagues and I are currently investigating as part of a project called PFAS-REACH. In laboratory studies, low levels of PFAS can alter mammary gland development, which could have implications for increasing breast cancer susceptibility later in life.

What’s more, PFAS are highly persistent. Once released into the environment, they don’t break down – a fact that has led many to dub these substances “forever chemicals.”

A 2016 study found that drinking water supplies for 6 million U.S. residents exceeded EPA’s lifetime health advisory levels for PFOS and PFOA.
A 2016 study found that drinking water supplies for 6 million U.S. residents exceeded EPA’s lifetime health advisory levels for PFOS and PFOA. CC BY-ND

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