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Sunday, May 26, 2024

EPA Issues New Guidance on ‘Forever Chemicals’

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has identified several locations across the state as having forever chemicals at their sites. Some are Fentress Air Base, Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, DuPont Spruance Manufacturing in Richmond. (Adobe Stock)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is implementing new rules on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as forever chemicals.

The new National Primary Drinking Water Regulation establishes maximum contaminant levels on six different chemicals in drinking water. The chemicals were used in a variety of everyday items like nonstick cookware, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, and cosmetics.

Public water systems would monitor for the chemicals, notify the public of their presence, and reduce levels if they exceed the proposed standards.

Geoff Gisler, program director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, described how water treatment plants can help keep them from being ingested.

“The most widely used technology is something called granular activated carbon,” Gisler explained. “It’s a specialized version of what people have in their Brita filters. Brita filters themselves aren’t enough to get it out, but it’s a specialized version of that, where the water goes through carbon, and the carbon bonds chemicals to it, so that it pulls it out of the water.”

Another method of removing the chemicals is reverse osmosis, which uses a fine membrane to capture them. However, the method merely removes them from the water and does not break them down. In 2022, the EPA found heating firefighting foam containing forever chemicals up to 705 degrees Fahrenheit successfully destroyed them. Additional tests are being done to see if this can be used to treat wastewater.

Gisler pointed out the new regulations encourage stopping the pollution of forever chemicals at the source. Outside the regulations, he feels state agencies need to take action to prohibit their discharge and address sources. Gisler noted people can take action to ensure they are not ingesting any of the chemicals.

“When people think about what can they do, I think increasingly what we’re seeing is that companies are disclosing whether or not their packaging or their products have PFAS in them,” Gisler stressed.

In 2022, Virginia’s General Assembly considered legislation for the Commissioner of Health to study the occurrence of forever chemicals in public drinking water. The bill never got out of committee.

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