The US Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed the first-ever national drinking water standard for six cancer-causing chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The proposal is a major milestone in the EPA's strategy to tackle the human-made so-called "forever chemicals" found in water, air and food that have caused tens of thousands of illnesses around the country.
"EPA's proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
Under the new standard, the agency will require public water systems to monitor for six PFAS chemicals, inform the public if PFAS levels exceed proposed standards in the drinking water supply, and take action to reduce PFAS levels.
Chemical companies sell PFAS for use in products ranging from paper to pans, enabling them to be stain-resistant, water-repellent and grease-proof. They are also used in industrial processes and discharged into waterways.
The Biden administration has directed $10 billion to help communities reduce PFAS and other contaminants through passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
It is the first time since 1996 that drinking water standards have been proposed for a new chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Environmental groups welcomed the new standards but said it was up to retailers and chemical companies to make a difference.
“This action should send a strong signal to retailers that it’s time to phase out all PFAS to prevent further drinking water contamination of communities around the country,” said Mike Schade, director of Toxic-Free Future's Mind the Store program.
West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who has for years pressed the EPA to address PFAS, welcomed the announcement and said she wanted to hear from water systems and ratepayers about how the standards would affect them and how Congress can help.
"I'm looking forward to hearing from those who will be impacted by this announcement, including local water systems and ratepayers across the country, on how we can provide assistance for implementation," she said.