First Ever PFAS Drinking Water Standard Will Advance Public Health

Statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Apr 10, 2024

WASHINGTON (April 10, 2024)—Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new rules to protect people from drinking water contaminated by a group of chemicals known as PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances). Today’s critical new rules will, for the first time, set enforceable federal limits on a number of PFAS chemicals, requiring water utilities to test for and treat certain PFAS in tap water. Along with this rule, EPA announced $1 billion in new funding for testing and treatment of drinking water. PFAS chemicals are known to increase the risk of cancer, weaken immune systems and disrupt children’s cognitive development. The rule is a positive step toward tackling a major public health risk, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“After years of pressure from community advocates and public health experts, EPA has acted to reduce the risks from PFAS in drinking water. These new rules are based on the overwhelming scientific evidence that PFAS contamination is widespread and poses real risks to people exposed to it, especially infants and children. Millions of people across the country—particularly those living in and around current and former military installations—are exposed to these toxic chemicals. This is an overdue but vital effort to help keep the water we drink safe.

“There’s more work to be done. While this rule targets some of the most common contaminants, EPA should adopt a broader definition that covers PFAS chemicals as a class, rather than taking a piecemeal approach. And EPA should be taking the lead from the communities who are exposed to PFAS contamination in their water, not the chemical industry trade groups that have pushed disinformation in an effort to prevent strong rules. The success of this rule and future PFAS protections depends on community participation, consistent monitoring, and serious enforcement in the years to come.”

In 2018, UCS obtained documents from EPA under a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that political appointees intended to suppress the release of a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on the health effects of PFAS chemicals, a violation of the principles of scientific integrity. UCS was part of a successful lawsuit last year that helped ensure better monitoring and reporting on PFAS releases.