EPA cracks down on ‘forever chemicals’ in tap water

By E.A. Crunden | 03/14/2023 10:00 AM EDT

After initially signaling plans to regulate just two PFAS, the agency is now targeting six compounds under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A glass of drinking water.

A person holding a glass of water. Engin Akyurt/Unsplash

EPA has broadened its plans to regulate the most controversial “forever chemicals” under the Safe Drinking Water Act, in a major victory for environmental advocates that is likely to have enormous implications for industry members.

Regulators announced the move Tuesday, saying they will seek to limit levels of six compounds — rather than just two — in drinking water.

The agency said it is proposing to set the limits for the likely carcinogen PFOA and equally notorious PFOS at 4 parts per trillion — a stark indicator of how dangerous regulators believe the compounds are for public health.


Four additional chemicals will be targeted as a mixture, prompting water systems to use a hazard index calculation that would determine when combined levels of those compounds pose a possible risk. Those chemicals are PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and HFPO-DA, which is better known by its trademarked name GenX.

That move represents a pivot after EPA initially sought maximum contaminant levels for only PFOA and PFOS. Targeting a wider group could foreshadow bigger actions to come from the agency that single out more of the compounds. Under the proposal, public water systems must monitor for all six compounds and both notify the public and reduce contamination if levels are breached. EPA said that if finalized, the rule will “prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.”

The long-anticipated move is set to dramatically change the regulatory landscape for PFAS and for drinking water contaminants more broadly. Impacted communities have pushed for years for the crackdown and called on the Biden administration to take action. Industry members by contrast have pushed against the possibility and are likely to fight the proposal in court.