EPA's step toward regulating PFAS welcome news for local advocates

·3 min read

Jul. 17—The EPA included PFAS in a draft of a list of contaminants that may be subject to future regulation, but local water-quality activists are calling for more action more quickly.

Every five years, the Environmental Protection Agency creates an updated list of water contaminants. The list released last week includes several dozen chemicals and microbes, as well as the entire category of substances often called PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

PFAS are a family of thousands of different manmade chemicals also sometimes called "forever chemicals" because they do not break down naturally. The chemicals are used in common household items to make surfaces nonstick, stain-proof and waterproof.

Adding contaminants to the EPA's list is the first step toward potential regulation of the acceptable levels of these chemicals in drinking water.

"This important step will help ensure that communities across the nation have safe water by improving EPA's understanding of contaminants in drinking water," said Radhika Fox, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, in a statement last week. "On PFAS, the agency is working with the scientific community to prioritize the assessment and regulatory evaluation of all chemicals as contaminants."

The EPA already is moving forward with the process to regulate two of these substances, PFOS and PFOA.

But Laurene Allen, of Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water, said she is eager to see regulations on the entire class of PFAS substances. Allen said she thought regulating PFAS chemicals as a class is important, because with a lot of companies making different PFAS compounds, it doesn't make sense to pick off just a few at a time.

Identification of PFAS on the list of water contaminants would be a promising step, but Allen said identification of PFAS as contaminants is not enough.

"What does it do for this area?" Allen asked. "Does it clean up the water?"

Allen said she hoped to see more action, like regulations on how much PFAS chemicals can be discharged into water, and funding to help people clean up their contaminated wells.

She is also hopeful about a bill that would designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the law that created Superfund sites, require national standards for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water, and create a label for PFAS-free products. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas are cosponsors of the bill.

Pappas spoke about the bill this week during a PFAS conference convened by the Environmental Working Group.

Papas said more PFAS contamination has been revealed in recent year, and he called for swift regulation.

"This is a real, present danger to the folks I represent," Pappas said, calling for a nationwide standard for PFAS in drinking water.

"We have a patchwork system across this country, and it's time for a federal standard," Pappas said.

New Hampshire implemented standards for four PFAS chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS, in 2019. But Allen said she sees other states taking more aggressive steps, including two of New Hampshire's neighbors.

Massachusetts has standards for six PFAS chemicals, and state legislators there are beginning to discuss bans on the entire class of chemicals. Maine legislators passed a bill last week that would phase out all PFAS chemicals by 2030.

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