PFAS in Drinking Water: A Tipping Point in Environmental Regulation

The landscape of environmental safety has experienced a significant shift, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently imposed drinking water regulations aimed at six PFAS compounds. This decision has generated a mix of commendation and critique, shedding light on a deeply intricate and controversial issue.

What Are PFAS?

For those unfamiliar, PFAS is a collective term for nearly 15,000 chemicals predominantly utilized in crafting water, stain, and heat-resistant products. These “forever chemicals” are aptly named given their tenacious endurance in the environment. And the stakes are high: exposure can lead to a spectrum of health repercussions, from cancer and liver disease to thyroid malfunctions and weakened immunity.

Given that more than 200 million Americans might be consuming PFAS-contaminated water, this has escalated into an urgent environmental crisis.

EPA’s New Regulations: A Leap or a Stumble?

The new EPA mandate requires municipal utilities to eliminate six specific PFAS compounds from drinking water, most notably PFOS and PFOA. By doing so, legal entities could target major PFAS culprits such as the U.S. military and industrial giants like 3M, DuPont, and Chemours.

Although the newly set limits for PFOS and PFOA (4 ppt each) are a drastic decrease from the previous advisory limit of 70 ppt, are they stringent enough? The persistence of these compounds in our environment and bloodstream, despite industry claims of phasing them out, further intensifies this debate.

The conundrum doesn’t stop there. With the new “health hazard index,” the EPA mandates the removal of four more PFAS compounds if they pose a cumulative health risk. However, critics argue this is merely scratching the surface of a vast problem, as these six compounds are just a fraction of the roughly 15,000 PFAS chemicals. The emerging consensus among public health advocates is clear: regulate the entire PFAS class.

EPA’s Shifting Definition of PFAS: A Roadblock to Effective Regulation?

The EPA’s evolving stance on what qualifies as a PFAS compound has added another layer of complexity. This “case-by-case” approach appears to favor the industry and potentially leaves thousands of chemicals unchecked. The discrepancy between the EPA’s definitions and those adopted by regions like the European Union and Canada, along with most of the scientific community, points to a need for international consistency.

From our standpoint as a personal injury law firm, such discrepancies can have profound consequences. Take North Carolina’s Cape Fear basin’s struggle against Chemours’ pollution, for instance. The EPA’s reluctance to test for specific chemicals, based on their current PFAS definition, exemplifies how pivotal—and contentious—this definition is.

In Conclusion: The Path Forward

The EPA’s recent pivot on PFAS signifies a landmark progression in environmental oversight. While there’s undeniable merit in setting new drinking water limits, the overarching debate around PFAS’s definition and the sufficiency of these regulations is far from over.

At OnderLaw, we believe in the primacy of public health and the pursuit of justice for those wronged by environmental negligence. As we navigate this evolving issue, it’s clear that the EPA’s choices in addressing these omnipresent “forever chemicals” will frame environmental law’s trajectory for the foreseeable future. The essence of this debate boils down to a fundamental question: Are we doing enough, fast enough, for the safety of our communities?