It is ironic that a substance known for its non-stick properties, has created a very sticky situation.
PFAS are manmade chemicals often used in common items like medical equipment, food packaging, non-stick cookware and stain- and water-resistant coating, among other things. We now know that these chemicals, which have been found in drinking water supplies across the globe, can accumulate in the human body and some have been found to be toxic.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in February that it will propose “regulatory determinations” for two of the best understood PFAS. This does not guarantee these substances will ultimately be regulated on a national level, but it sets EPA on the path to exploring the feasibility and effectiveness of a regulation.
What hampers EPA’s ability to regulate a contaminant? Frequently, it is a lack of research. In order to understand if a substance should be regulated, the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that it “is known to occur or there is a substantial likelihood that the contaminant will occur in public water systems with a frequency and at levels of public health concern; and in the sole judgment of the Administrator, regulation of such contaminant presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems.”
With a new presidential administration and U.S. Congress set to take office in January, let’s hope our leaders work together to secure greater funding for drinking water research. Federal dollars can be leveraged by universities and medical centers and others to help us understand what contaminants present health concerns, how they can be removed through drinking water treatment and how we can best protect our precious water resources.
If you’re interested in learning more about PFAS, check out the AWWA Briefing on PFAS and the PFAS resource page on DrinkTap.org.