Saturday, May 20, 2023

EPA floats PFAS limits for drinking water

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PFAS has been much on the lips of regulators, lately and at last. 

As I wrote in 2021, the movie Dark Waters (2019), based on a true story, first brought PFAS to my attention. I'm happy to report that we've since replaced almost all of our PFAS-coated cookware. And just yesterday, I followed the recent custom of removing a burrito from its plastic-coated-paper wrapper before heating it in the microwave.

When John Oliver gave his classic treatment to PFAS in 2021, Europe was moving to regulate it, but the United States was doing very little. Per John Oliver's invitation, I confirmed that my local water authority in Rhode Island was not testing for PFAS in drinking water.

Now, with Biden Administration support announced in March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Authority has a PFAS website and proposed regulations for drinking water. The proposal would drop acceptable levels of six PFAS chemicals from 70 to 4 parts per million (ppt).

That's a start, but not a solution. 

PFAS might now be in the drinking water of as many as 200 million Americans, The Guardian reported in March. Research shows human health risk upon any exposure to PFAS, so no safe level is known. The EPA's own guidelines since last year have called for voluntary limits on two PFAS chemicals at 0.02 and 0.004 ppt, a Harvard expert explained. Meanwhile, it's not clear that scientific testing is accurate enough to detect PFAS levels that low. Thus, the EPA proposal is vulnerable to criticism for not reaching the full range of PFAS chemicals and not setting maximum levels low enough. But the challenge truly to ensure human health might be practically insurmountable.

Spurred by burgeoning state regulation meanwhile, the private sector is ramping up capacity to test for PFAS nationwide. In February, Maine Laboratories became the first commercial lab in that state to offer testing. Maine Labs sells test kits for drinking water, waste water, ground water, and soil, with a two-week turnaround for results. Maine Labs's CEO is Katie Richards, a close friend and former college roommate of one of my sisters.

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