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EPA sets national standard for locally prevalent PFAS chemicals


In a Wednesday announcement that was years in the making, the Environmental Protection Agency set an enforceable national drinking water standard of 4 parts per trillion for two of the toxic “forever chemicals” that have infiltrated water supplies around the country.

The PFAS chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — have exacted a particularly heavy toll on residents and businesses near the border of Bucks and Montgomery counties, where now-shuttered military bases in Warminster and Horsham townships, for years, used firefighting foams containing the chemicals.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, heart and liver problems and developmental damage to infants and children.

Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia praised the EPA Wednesday for its “decisive action.”

“Here in Bucks County, we have spent years pursuing justice for the harm our communities have endured, and it is just fantastic to see the federal government using its authority to join the fight for clean drinking water for all,” she said.

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, celebrated the news in a statement Wednesday morning.

“This is an historic adoption of safe drinking water standards for some of the most dangerous and frequently found ‘forever chemicals’ that have plagued communities for decades — in some cases, generations,” she said.

It has been 10 years since PFAS chemicals were first detected in the drinking water of what ultimately turned out to be more than 70,000 residents of Warminster, Warrington, Horsham and some surrounding communities.

The military has spent tens of millions of dollars providing filters and clean water in affected local communities. The focus was on places where the groundwater contained the chemicals at a level above 70 parts per trillion, which was the EPA’s “health advisory” level at the time.

A national standard of just 4 parts per trillion is much more aggressive than the EPA’s guidance, both because it drastically lowers the amount that’s deemed acceptable to be present in drinking water and because greater enforceability accompanies a national standard. It will afford residents extra protection and provide leverage to those whose water supplies exceed the limit and are seeking compensation.

“This step is a long time coming for communities in the commonwealth who have been suffering from toxic PFAS contamination in their water for far too long,” said Stephanie Wein, clean water advocate for the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.

It was May 2018 that then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he planned to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS. But it wasn’t until March 2020 that Pruitt’s successor — Andrew Wheeler — formally announced his decision to regulate them.

That was four years ago.

“Delaware Riverkeeper Network commends EPA for finally bringing this strict and science-based rule across the finish line,” Carluccio said. “People have the right to safe drinking water and, with this federal rule, equal protection will soon be provided to all who rely on public water supplies in every state in the nation.”

According to the EPA, the standard will reduce PFAS exposure “for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses.”

The EPA also announced nearly $1 billion in newly available funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells address PFAS contamination.

“Hopefully, this rule also reinforces the message that it is time to stop using these chemicals in the first place,” said Wein.

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