Right-to-Know

Researchers find unsafe levels of industrial chemicals in drinking water of 6 million Americans

Using data from the EPA, researchers mapped areas of the country where high levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have surfaced in drinking water supplies. (Courtesy Xindi Hu)

Using data from the EPA, researchers mapped areas of the country where high levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have surfaced in drinking water supplies. (Courtesy Xindi Hu)

WASHINGTON, DC — “The federal government does not currently regulate PFAS chemicals. But they are on the EPA’s list of “unregulated contaminants” that the agency monitors, with the goal of restricting those that most endanger public health. Partly because the rules that it must follow are complicated and contentious, officials have failed to successfully regulate any new contaminant in two decades.

Only once since the 1990s has the EPA come close to imposing a new standard — for perchlorate, a chemical that sometimes occurs naturally but also is found in explosives, road flares and rocket fuel. It has turned up in the drinking water of over 16 million people.

Joel Beauvais, who leads the EPA’s Office of Water, told the Post earlier this year that the system mandated by Congress demands the agency move deliberately. “It’s a rather intensive process to get one of these drinking-water regulations across the finish line,” he said.

There are reasons for that, Beauvais said at the time. A substance may occur in only a very small number of drinking-water systems or might occur only in extremely low levels. Before the EPA imposes new limitations on the nation’s water utilities, it has to prove that there is a meaningful opportunity to improve public health. ‘These are very consequential regulations,’ Beauvais said. ‘They are consequential from a health perspective. They are consequential from an economic perspective.'”

— Brady Dennis, Washington Post

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