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Threshold limits for “eternal pollutants” in running water in the United States

Photo: iStockphoto Water is a major source of exposure to PFAS and cleaning it can be done quickly, since it is filterable.

Lucie Aubourg – Agence France-Presse in Washington

April 10, 2024

  • United States

End of impunity in the taps: the American authorities announced for the first time on Wednesday that they would establish threshold limits in running water for PFAS, nicknamed “eternal pollutants” and linked to serious health problems, including cancers.

This new regulation is expected to reduce exposure to PFAS for approximately 100 million people, and prevent “thousands of deaths,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) .

This is the “strongest action ever taken on PFAS by the EPA,” said its boss, Michael Regan.

The measure is praised by environmental associations but arouses concern among private operators, who have criticized its cost.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) are a large family of synthetic molecules used since the 1940s and having been developed for their heat resistance or even their impermeability.

They are for example used in waterproof textiles, non-stick pans (Teflon), detergents, cosmetics and many other objects.

Problem: These properties make them virtually indestructible, allowing them to then accumulate in nature or the human body.

However, exposure to certain PFAS has been linked to cancers and can affect fertility or the development of young children, underlined the EPA.

“There is no doubt that these chemical compounds have been important to certain industries and certain consumer uses,” Michael Regan said. “But there is also no doubt that many of them can be harmful to our health and the environment.”

According to a 2023 study by a US government agency, at least 45% of tap water in the United States is contaminated with PFAS.

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5 year deadline

In detail, the new regulations concern five types of PFAS — notably PFOA and PFOS, the most studied and the most often detected.

If there are thousands of PFAS, targeting those will help filter out others along the way, according to David Andrews, a scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization very engaged on this subject.< /p>

And even if other sources of exposure exist (food, etc.), water is an “important” one and cleaning it of PFAS can be done quickly, since it is filterable, he said. -he explained.

EPA estimates that between 6% to 10% of systems providing drinking water (66,000 total) will need to take steps to comply with the new standards.

They will first have three years to test their water and inform the population of the pollution levels observed. Then two additional years to act, for example by installing specific filters.

Several organizations representing industry have expressed concern about the cost of these measures, which they say was “underestimated” by the EPA.

“Coming into compliance with these federal standards is going to cost billions of dollars,” argued Robert Powelson of the National Association of Water Utilities. This cost will fall “disproportionately” on “consumers”, he assured.

The Joe Biden government emphasizes that the benefits generated in terms of public health exceed these costs. He also announced on Wednesday the provision of a billion dollars to help finance these installations – funds from a major infrastructure renovation law adopted in 2021.


Around ten American states already had limits for PFAS in drinking water and will be able to keep them if they are stricter than the national ones.

Other countries, as well as the European Union, also already have threshold limits.

But those announced Wednesday by the United States are “among the strictest in the world, if not the strictest,” according to Melanie Benesh of the Environmental Working Group.

The new regulations are “historic”, she told AFP. “This is a major victory for public health in the United States. »

Elsewhere too, PFAS are finding themselves increasingly targeted by the authorities: in France, the National Assembly approved last week at first reading the ban on certain products containing PFAS.

The Biden government announced it would tackle PFAS in 2021, launching actions on several fronts.

In February, the American health authorities, for example, announced the end of the sale of food packaging containing PFAS (fast-food packaging, take-out meals, popcorn bags, etc.) , thus removing one of the main sources of dietary exposure.

Among future actions still expected: EPA is working to classify several types of PFAS as “hazardous substances.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116