EPA announces drinking water standards for six individual PFAS "forever chemicals"
March 14, 2023
Commitment comes after years of PFAS action by states and leading retailers nationwide
Safer States and Toxic-Free Future applaud the move to protect communities and urge new prevention-based policies
WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced drinking water standards for six individual PFAS “forever chemicals” including PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, HFPO-DA (GenX), and PFBS. This is the first time that drinking water standards have been proposed for a new chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act since it was updated in 1996. The newly proposed drinking water standards are:
- 4 parts per trillion for PFOA
- 4 parts per trillion for PFOS
- A standard based on the hazard of a mixture of four additional PFAS chemicals: PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and HFPO-DA (commonly known as Gen X)
The proposed new drinking water standards follow last year’s announcement of lifetime health advisories for four PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
EPA’s commitment comes after years of PFAS action by states and leading retailers nationwide. For additional details, see below background information on PFAS.
Safer States and Toxic-Free Future applaud the move to protect communities and urge a new approach that will end the use of PFAS and other hazardous chemicals in products. The following statements were released in response to this news.
“We applaud the Biden administration for following the lead of the states and stepping up to protect communities from these toxic ‘forever chemicals,’” explained Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “These proposed standards are a positive step forward and reinforce the need for all parts of government to address the PFAS crisis. We urge the federal government to continue to follow the lead of states and phase out the production and use of these chemicals in favor of safer solutions so that we stop adding PFAS to our already polluted water, land, and air. We also urge the federal government to follow the lead of state attorneys general and hold polluters accountable for the mess they created.”
“The Biden Administration is taking important steps forward to help communities across the country suffering the health and financial consequences of ongoing exposure to these highly toxic ‘forever chemicals,’” said Liz Hitchcock, federal policy program director for Toxic-Free Future. “To prevent further PFAS contamination, we must put an end to uses of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foams used by military and civilian firefighters and in consumer products like food packaging and textiles. Congress has made progress in prior years’ military spending bills and in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill – they must keep moving forward to protect us from these toxic chemicals.”
“The EPA’s new standards for PFAS in drinking water are an important reminder of how these forever chemicals can be toxic at incredibly low levels of exposure,” said Mike Schade, director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “This action should send a strong signal to retailers that it’s time to phase out all PFAS to prevent further drinking water contamination of communities around the country. Retailers can play a critical role in safeguarding drinking water by banning these forever chemicals once and for all.”
“While this standard is welcome news, it is clear our chemical regulatory system continues to allow companies to put cancer-causing PFAS into millions of products and is failing our health and putting the burden on taxpayers and ratepayers to pay the costs of cleaning up our drinking water,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “We need a new prevention-based approach modeled on states like Washington that bends the curve down on PFAS and all highly hazardous chemicals that shouldn’t be in products or our drinking water.”
BACKGROUND ON PFAS
Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. These toxic compounds are also widely used in industrial processes and then discharged into waterways. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they persist and don’t break down in the environment.
Last year, Toxic-Free Future released a study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant, with 72% testing positive for PFAS—including products from REI, Amazon, and others. A 2021 peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future (TFF), the University of Washington, and Indiana University found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. Toxic-Free Future’s investigative report revealed that a PFAS manufacturing facility is a major source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals that contribute to health problems and climate change. Previous TFF studies also identified PFAS in food packaging at top grocery, fast-food, and fast-casual chains.
PFAS in drinking water: State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to establish enforceable standards or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for certain PFAS in drinking water. Ten states (ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, and WI) have established such standards. Maine has an interim standard that is in effect and enforceable while they go through rule-making to establish final PFAS MCLs. Delaware and Virginia have also begun the process of establishing enforceable standards for certain PFAS. At the same time, seventeen state attorneys general have or are pursuing litigation against manufacturers and certain users of PFAS chemicals for contaminating water supplies and other natural resources. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware (settled), Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan (one case settled), Minnesota (settled), North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
PFAS in products: State governments are also taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME and WA have given state agencies authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. Maine’s law requires product manufacturers to disclose the presence of PFAS. Several states have adopted restrictions on PFAS in textiles with CA banning PFAS in almost all textiles by 2025, NY restricting them in apparel, CO banning them in upholstered furniture, and WA moving forward on regulatory actions on many categories of textile products. Six states (CA, CO, ME, MD, NY, and VT) have adopted restrictions on PFAS in carpets, rugs and aftermarket treatments. Eleven states (CA, CO, CT, HI, MD, ME, MN, NY, RI, VT, and WA) have enacted state bans on PFAS in food packaging. CO also adopted restrictions on oil and gas products and personal care products. Eleven states including CA, CO, CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, NH, NY, VT, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS. With legislation adopted last year, WA is evaluating safer alternatives for PFAS in other products such as apparel, cleaners, coatings and floor finishes, firefighter turnout gear and others with a timeline of adopting restrictions by 2025.
Retailers restricting PFAS: Retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies to eliminate PFAS and other hazardous chemicals in key product and packaging sectors, according to the Retailer Report Card. Many outdoor and textiles brands have announced policies to reduce and eliminate PFAS. REI is the latest major retailer to announce it would ban PFAS in all textiles and cookware it sells, following a nationwide campaign. Patagonia has pledged to eliminate all PFAS across its entire product line by 2024. In July 2022, Columbia committed to a goal of phasing out PFAS by the end of 2024. In 2021, Polartec announced it was eliminating PFAS in its DWR (durable water repellent) treatments across its line of performance fabrics. Lowe’s and The Home Depot are no longer selling indoor residential carpets or rugs with PFAS, and Lowe’s also committed to stop selling fabric protection sprays with PFAS. Major grocery and fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market have adopted policies restricting PFAS in food packaging. Currently, over 30 unique retail chains with more than 150,000 stores and more than $650 billion in sales have committed to eliminating or reducing PFAS in food packaging, textiles, and/or other products.
Safer States is an alliance of diverse environmental health organizations and coalitions from across the nation committed to building a healthier world. By harnessing place-based power, the alliance works to safeguard people and the planet from toxic chemicals and sparks innovative solutions for a more sustainable future. www.saferstates.org
Toxic-Free Future is a national leader in environmental health research and advocacy. Through the power of science, education, and activism, Toxic-Free Future drives strong laws and corporate responsibility that protects the health of all people and the planet. www.toxicfreefuture.org