Pennsylvania sets drinking water standards on two PFAS compounds

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has adopted new limits for two toxicity classes of chemicals known as PFAS.

PFAS compounds, often called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down in the environment, are associated with serious health problems, including some cancers.

The move encourages all public and private drinking water treatment facilities in the state, as well as commercial bottled water plants, schools and medical facilities to test for toxic substances, report their findings, and place them on top of new water. Means the water needs to be treated for chemicals present. Maximum Contamination Level (MCL).

Chemicals have been used in consumer products since the 1940s, but scientists are calling them “the new pollutants” because so much is unknown about their effects on human health.

Public drinking water does not have a Federal Maximum Contamination Level (MCL) for PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

As a result, states have taken action and a patchwork of regulations exists across the country.

“Since Governor Tom Wolf signed the executive order in 2018, the DEP has been committed to protecting Pennsylvanians from the adverse effects of PFAS,” said Acting DEP Administrator Ramez Ziadeh. “We are still learning more about these chemicals and these new MCLs are a step in the right direction.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has set federal health advisory levels for PFAS, but unlike the MCL, the recommendations are not enforceable. In June 2022, the agency lowered its advisory level from 70 ppt to nearly zero ppt after announcing that the compound was more dangerous than previously thought.

New Pennsylvania regulations limit the PFAS compounds PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) to 14 ppt and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) to 18 ppt.

The rulemaking came after DEP asked Drexel University to assess PFAS contamination in the state. The study concluded that EPA’s health advisories on PFAS no longer protect public health. In October, the state’s Environmental Quality Board voted her 15 to 3 in favor of the limit.

“It was sorely needed for people currently drinking water contaminated with these highly toxic compounds,” Tracy Caruccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said at the poll. Drinking water containing PFAS increases levels of these toxins in the blood, increasing the risk of developing PFOA and PFOS-related diseases.”

For decades, PFAS chemicals have polluted water, air, and soil across the country. These so-called “forever” chemicals are found in consumer products such as nonstick cookware, flame retardant fabrics, some food packaging, and firefighting foams used on current and decommissioned military bases. Widely used.

Pollution has seriously affected residents in areas such as Bucks and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania, Monmouth counties in New Jersey, and Dover and Blaze counties in Delaware.

Numerous health issues, including some cancers, linked to PFAS have led to lawsuits against companies that make the products, including DuPont and its successors and 3M. The effects of exposure are long-lasting, and compounds can remain in the human bloodstream for years.

Caruccio and other environmental groups argue that Pennsylvania’s rulemaking is a step in the right direction but not restrictive enough. They wanted to regulate PFAS compounds and protect private wells. (Private wells are not regulated under the federal Clean Drinking Water Act and have no state authority.)

Delaware has proposed introducing its own MCL, and New Jersey already limits PFOS and PFNA to 13 ppt and PFOA to 14 ppt.

The EPA plans to propose federal regulation of PFAS in drinking water in March. The EPA also released a roadmap for addressing PFAS last year.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration of WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF, and WHYY.

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