EPA intends to place limits on water pollution

Reading Time: 4 minutes
  • Merrimack, New Hampshire suffers from an increased risk of severe health issues
  • Scientific research found PFAS chemicals in 97% of Americans blood
  • EPA announces plans to limit PFAS in drinking water
  • How can I test my water for PFAS?

Two decades ago, French manufacturing giant Saint-Gobain ramped up production of chemically waterproof fabrics at its Merrimack plant in New Hampshire, USA.

Fourteen years and thousands of severe health problems later, the manufacturing firm admitted to emitting unsafe levels of toxic perfluoroalkyl substances, collectively known as PFAS or “forever chemicals”, affecting drinking water in an area home to over 25,000 people.

Saint-Gobain has triggered decades-long pollution of the community’s water supplies. After losing to the community during a 2016 lawsuit, the firm was made to compensate property owners in the area for any potential health consequences and loss of property value.

A Glass of water

A 10-year medical monitoring system has also been established to detect any health-related issues as early as possible and provide referral treatment for conditions associated with the toxic chemical.

According to the Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water (MCCW) advocacy group, people within the community suffer from an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, immune deficiency, poor kidney function and developmental disorders. 

Children in the area, which is north of Boston, also face rare and aggressive cancers. As the Federal government does regulate PFAS, it can be found in all sorts of products, from take-out packaging to rainwear.

The Merrimack community suspects that high concentrations of the chemical found in fabrics manufactured by Saint-Gobain are to blame. After extensive testing, officials found 34 PFAS in amounts as high as 70,000 parts per trillion (ppt) within the area.

Given that the limit for New Hampshire’s groundwater is 12ppt – the difference is alarming. Several cases were made against Saint-Gobain to fund a clean-up over the past decade, but the company’s responses were always inadequate.

However, similar fights played out across America, with residents and environmentalists from all over the country opposing the growing public health crisis fuelled by “forever chemicals” and the long term impact on the environment and healthiness.

During 2019 and 2020, officials identified 700 PFAS-contaminated sites across America, estimating that more than 100 million people are now drinking polluted water. Approximately 34 cities in the US have high levels of the chemical in their drinking water, while some researchers have warned that it has spread into almost every surface water source in the US.

After years of wrangling, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it was considering placing limits on PFAS compounds.

EPA sets out on a long process to legally limit PFAS

Earlier this year, the EPA announced that it would embark on a years-long process of setting legal limits on forever chemicals – a significant move given that the agency currently doesn’t enforce any regulations on PFAS in drinking water.

PFAS chemicals are utilised to manufacture water, stain and heat resistant products such as Teflon appliances, waterproof coats, carpets, food packaging and even some dental floss.

As the compound doesn’t break down or degrade, it is known as a “forever chemical”; however, in high concentrations, it can cause a range of severe health issues, including cancer, liver diseases, heart problems and more.

Environmentalists have urged the agency to introduce rules on PFAS for several years, arguing that the compound is a danger to public health and animal wellbeing.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) Senior Scientist David Andrews warned: “With over 1,000 PFAS chemicals approved for use in the United States, a chemical-by-chemical approach to setting drinking water limits would likely take many lifetimes.”

According to scientific research, there are approximately 9,000 variations of the chemical, which is toxic to both humans and animals as it is a mobile substance that is water-soluble.

Separate analysis from EWG revealed that the chemical, which has been found in drinking water supplies for over 100 million Americans, is present in 97% of their bloodstream.

How do I know if my water contains PFAS?

The forever chemical is fluorinated, meaning that it is water-soluble and resistant to degradation, making it easy to traverse an area or country.

Public health advocates note that its ability to repel water and oil provides a basis for regulating the chemical or outright banning them, with drinking water limits deemed the first significant step in the right direction.

Environmentalists note that issuing rules for a few forever chemicals would be ineffective as industries would replace the regulated compounds with non-regulated, fluorinated chemicals.

However, it could take the EPA up to five years to enforce regulations on PFAS compounds. When asked about a timeline for when they plan to introduce the limits, they tiptoed around the question.

How can I test my water for PFAS?

You can submit your water samples to approved laboratories or take a blood test for PFAS to determine what levels are present within your system.

Currently, the UK does not test its water for PFAS, despite it being a highly toxic chemical. Fahren Taps champions health by providing purified water through our 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 instant boiling water taps. There are also incredible benefits to drinking hot water from an instant boiling tap.

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