EPA issues tighter limits for industrial chemical in water (Update)

May 19, 2016 by By Michael Biesecker

Federal regulators announced tightened limits Thursday for human exposure to an industrial chemical used for decades in such consumer products as non-stick pans, stain-resistant carpets and microwave popcorn bags.

The cancer-causing chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA, has been found in the tap water of dozens of factory towns near industrial sites where it was manufactured. DuPont, 3M and other U.S. chemical companies voluntarily phased out the use of PFOA in recent years.

Also at issue is the related chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, used in firefighting foam.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued the stricter standards for the chemicals after years of pressure from public health experts and advocacy groups. The agency said the new limits were prompted by recent scientific studies linking PFOA and PFOS to testicular and kidney cancers, as well as birth defects and liver damage.

"EPA will continue sharing the latest science and information so that state and local officials can make informed decisions and take actions to protect public health," said Joel Beauvais, the EPA's deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water. "This is an important part of our broader effort to support states and public water systems as we work together to strengthen the safety of America's drinking water."

Trace amounts of PFOA and PFOS can be detected in the blood of almost every American as the result of exposure through food and consumer products. But of specific concern to regulators is the risk posed to residents in the relatively small number of communities where higher levels of PFOA and PFOS have been found in public drinking water.

EPA now says long-term exposure to either chemical at concentrations above 70 parts per trillion could have adverse health impacts. That's significantly lower than the agency's prior advisory level based on short-term exposure of 400 parts per trillion.

Under the EPA's new guidance, water systems where concentrations of PFOA or PFOS are found above 70 parts per trillion are advised to promptly notify local residents and consult with their state drinking water agencies.

EPA said public notification is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because of the impact the chemicals can have on the development of fetuses and infants who are breastfed or drinking formula made with tap water.

In 2013, EPA ordered about 4,800 public water systems nationwide to test for PFOA. More than 100 cities and towns in 29 states had trace amounts of PFOA, but none exceeded 400 parts per trillion.

However, the new lower limit means that a handful of those communities will now qualify as having water with contamination levels above the advised threshold.

EPA's national survey also did not include many smaller communities located near sites where the chemicals were used for decades.

Hoosick Falls, New York, is located near a plastics plant and where the water supply system serves just 4,500 people, wasn't included in the testing. PFOA levels of 600 part per trillion were discovered in village wells in 2014 because residents demanded testing amid concerns about what they perceived as a high cancer rates.

More recently, testing turned up PFOA concentrations of about 100 parts per trillion in the drinking water of nearby Petersburgh, New York, and North Bennington, Vermont, which also had plastics plants. A second round of water testing in North Bennington recently yielded readings of up to 2,730 parts per trillion—nearly 40 times the EPA's new advisory limit.

Explore further: As exposure to chemical rises, so does risk of ending breastfeeding early

Related Stories

PFOS and PFOA linked to low birth weight

August 20, 2007

A U.S. study says exposure to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) in the womb is linked to low birth weight and head circumference.

Stain repellent chemical linked to thyroid disease in adults

January 21, 2010

A study by the University of Exeter and the Peninsula Medical School for the first time links thyroid disease with human exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is a persistent organic chemical used in industrial ...

Household chemicals may be linked to infertility

January 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health have found the first evidence that perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs — chemicals that are widely used in everyday items such as food packaging, pesticides, ...

Recommended for you

Fish-inspired material changes color using nanocolumns

March 20, 2019

Inspired by the flashing colors of the neon tetra fish, researchers have developed a technique for changing the color of a material by manipulating the orientation of nanostructured columns in the material.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.