Pennsylvania Becomes Eighth State to Set PFAS Drinking Water Limits
As awareness grows of the spread and health impacts of the toxic forever chemicals known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), more and more U.S. states are taking steps to regulate them.
The latest is Pennsylvania, which published a legal limit for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)–two of the most widespread types of PFAS–in drinking water on Jan. 14.
“This final-form rulemaking will protect public health by setting State MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Levels] for contaminants in drinking water that are currently unregulated at the Federal level,” the rule reads. “With this final-form rulemaking, the Commonwealth has moved ahead of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in addressing PFOA and PFOS in drinking water and joins a small group of states that have set regulatory limits for select PFAS in drinking water.”
PFAS are a class of chemicals that have been used by industry since the 1940s in products such as firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and stain- or water-resistant items. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the human body or the environment and have been found everywhere from rainwater to umbilical cord blood. They have also been linked to a number of health impacts including cancer , developmental problems and immune suppression.
PFOA and PFOS have both been phased out from active use in the U.S. but continue to persist in the environment. PFOA has been linked with liver, testicle, breast and pancreas tumors and PFOS with birth defects and cancer.
Pennsylvania’s new regulation limits PFOA in drinking water to 14 parts per trillion (PPT) and PFOS to 18 PPT. The rule will apply to the state’s 3,117 water systems, which include community, bottled, bulk and retail drinking water, according to the rule. The new regulation also sets standards for testing drinking water, reporting results and cleaning contaminated water, Patch reported.
Pennsylvania has struggled with PFAS contamination in the past. In 2021, its Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said around one third of more than 400 sites assessed tested positive for one PFAS chemical, AP News reported. The federal government has been slow to act on PFAS regulation, so Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed an Executive Order in 2018 creating a multi-agency PFAS Action Team to study and address contamination, as the rule explained. The new limit comes out of that work.
“Since Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order in 2018, DEP has been committed to protecting Pennsylvanians from the adverse impacts of PFAS. We are still learning more about these chemicals, and these new MCLs are a step in the right direction,” DEP Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh said, as Patch reported.
In 2022, 14 states adopted 33 policies related to PFAS, according to Toxic-Free Future. The new rule noted that seven other states had set drinking water limits for at least one of the chemicals: Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington.
While there is no enforceable drinking water limit for PFAS on the federal level, the EPA did update its safety guidance for PFOA and PFOS from 70 ppt to near zero in June 2022. It also proposed regulating both chemicals under the Superfund law.
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