News Tip: Biden’s Drinking Water Standard ‘A Major Step Forward,’ Expert Says

News Tip: Biden’s Drinking Water Standard ‘A Major Step Forward,’ Expert Says

Summary: The Biden administration on Wednesday announced the first national drinking water limit on toxic PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” in drinking water. Duke University professor Lee Ferguson is an environmental analytical chemist and an expert on PFAS. His comments below are available for use in your coverage. (Watch a video of Ferguson discussing his research.)

The newly enacted maximum contaminant levels for PFAS in drinking water announced today by the US EPA are a major step forward for protection of drinking water quality,” says Lee Ferguson, an environmental analytical chemist and an expert on PFAS at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “The enforceable maximum contaminant levels set for PFOA and PFOS (4 ppt each) are consistent with the EPA’s previously announced draft maximum contaminant levels from one year ago, while maximum contaminant levels for PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX (HFPO-DA) are more stringent than the draft levels, at 10 ppt each.”

“Overall, this is the first time that the EPA has regulated the class of forever chemicals known as PFAS. These regulations follow over two decades of scientific research, monitoring and policy considerations, and they set an important example for protection of our environment and human health from persistent and mobile industrial chemicals. Action by EPA on these ‘emerging contaminants’ provides a strong message that these pollutants have now fully emerged and that the science supports federal action to protect our health from exposure through drinking water.”

“The fact that GenX is one of the several PFAS’ being regulated through today’s action is an indication of just how important the issue of PFAS contamination in North Carolina has been. North Carolina was ground zero for discovery of GenX pollution in drinking water supplies and it remains one of the only locations in the country where this compound has been routinely measured at problematic levels in ambient waters.”

“The immediate result of this regulatory action is that many drinking water suppliers across the country — including in NC — will exceed these maximum contaminant levels for PFAS. The consequences of this may include increased investment in engineered solutions to remove PFAS during drinking water treatment, and this will come at a financial cost which must be borne by stakeholders.”

“Some of these funds may come from penalties on PFAS polluters such as manufacturers/industries or from federal grants/subsidies, but inevitably the ratepayers and customers of drinking water utilities will bear some of the costs. In addition, the enacting of these regulations will result in even greater scrutiny of PFAS sources and inputs to the environment, as regulated utilities begin routinely monitoring for these pollutants in their water supplies.”

“PFAS manufacturers will be forced to continue phasing out production and marketing of these persistent pollutants as pressure mounts from regulatory and legal action against them. We must be vigilant to ensure that ‘regrettable substitution’ does not occur, where manufacturers introduce replacement chemicals that have unknown and potentially harmful effects in the environment.”

“The enacting of regulatory limits for PFAS in drinking water will provide additional protections for other non-targeted and unregulated water pollutants, even the ones we have not yet discovered. PFAS are difficult to destroy or effectively remove from water supplies, and engineered solutions designed to remove them from drinking water will also remove many other organic pollutants. This will have the overall effect of increasing our water quality nationally and improving our collective health.”

Lee Ferguson
Lee Ferguson is an environmental analytical chemist in Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and one of the lead scientists investigating PFAS contamination in North Carolina drinking water sources and the associated program to search for other potential pollutants. The Ferguson laboratory is focused on development and application of analytical methods for measuring organic pollutants in the environment. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed chapters and journal articles, serves on advisory councils for several organizations focused on emerging pollutants in the environment, and has testified before the U.S. Senate on environmental health concerns related to nanotechnology.

For additional comment, contact Lee Ferguson at:

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