Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released lifetime health advisories for four different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which you may know better as PFAS. This step has triggered a complicated situation.
Lifetime health advisories are not laws or regulatory limits. They do, however, provide new information on potential negative health effects from substances over the course of a lifetime of exposure. Put simply, the EPA is saying water consumers are better off with less exposure to these PFAS over the course of a normal life span, or 70 years. If understood in this context, the health advisories can be considered a good input as we seek to limit these chemicals in our water and environment.
It’s important, however, to keep in mind that EPA is not saying there are immediate health risks from PFAS at the parts per quadrillion levels in the new health advisories. The advisories for two of the PFAS – PFOA and PFOS – are so low that modern science cannot detect them, and they account for the assumed exposure from many other sources of PFAS in the environment and include a margin of safety for even the most vulnerable populations.
EPA did not advise people to stop drinking their tap water – in fact, the agency specifically points out that it is not recommending bottled water. And while EPA states that certain home water treatment device can reduce PFAS, none are certified to reduce PFAS to the levels in EPA’s PFOA and PFOS health advisories.
The EPA has a fact sheet with additional information on the new health advisories.
If all this is a bit confusing, that’s understandable. There’s still a lot we don’t know about PFAS health effects at the levels they are being found in water. The good news on PFAS is this: Water utilities are already monitoring for the substances to help prepare for a new regulation, and EPA is in the process of proposing a maximum contaminant level under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Check with your utility if you are concerned to learn more about the PFAS levels in your water.