Recent CR investigation found widespread contamination of PFAS “forever chemicals” in U.S. tap water
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports praised the House Energy and Commerce Committee today for approving a bill that aims to protect the public from toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The PFAS Action Act sets limits on PFAS in drinking water and requires cleanup of the chemicals that are used widely by manufacturers to make products resistant to stains, grease, and water. PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily and persist in the environment for many years.
“PFAS contamination is widespread across the country and poses a serious and growing threat to public health,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports. “We can’t afford to ignore the dangers posed by toxic ‘forever chemicals’ any longer. This bill is urgently needed and will help protect the public by requiring long overdue limits on PFAS in drinking water and cleanup of contaminated sites.”
PFAS are used in the manufacture of a variety of consumer products, including firefighting foam and protective equipment, food packaging, rugs, carpets, and aftermarket stain and water treatment. People can be exposed to PFAS through food, water, consumer products that contain the chemicals, and contaminated soil, dust, and air.
A recent CR investigation of tap water in the U.S. found that nearly every sample tested contained measurable levels of PFAS. More than one-third of all samples exceeded 10 parts per trillion (ppt) total PFAS, a safety threshold that CR scientists and other health experts think should be the maximum amount allowed in water. There are no enforceable limits set by the EPA for PFAS in drinking water. Instead, the EPA has established a voluntary combined limit of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, two of the better-studied PFAS chemicals.
Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS chemicals is associated with immunotoxicity, cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, and decreased sperm quality. PFAS exposure reduces the immune response to childhood vaccines and may increase the risk of infectious disease. In addition, PFAS exposure has been directly linked to several underlying conditions that make people more vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including obesity, asthma, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.
The PFAS Action Act of 2021 (HR 2467) designates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program and requires the EPA to mandate the cleanup of sites contaminated with the two PFAS chemicals. Within five years, the EPA would be required to determine whether the remaining PFAS chemicals should be designated as hazardous substances requiring cleanup.
In addition, the bill requires the EPA to adopt a drinking water standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act for certain PFAS to ensure the public is protected, particularly pregnant women, infants, and children. The legislation also sets PFAS air emission limits, prohibits unsafe incineration of PFAS, and restricts the introduction of new PFAS chemicals into commerce.
Michael McCauley, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-902-9537