Utilities will have to regularly test for toxic chemicals and spend billions upgrading wastewater treatment plants to filter them under the first-ever national restrictions designed to protect Americans from widespread threats to human health and the environment.
Illinois alone has more than enough drinking water 660 thousand people is contaminated at levels that exceed the proposed standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The most widely detected versions of the chemicals build up in a person’s blood, cause cancer and other diseases, and take years to leave the body.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that there is actually no safe level of exposure to perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which has been used for decades by 3M to make Scotchgard stain repellant, or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which 3M sold to DuPont to make Teflon. coatings for dishes, clothes and electrical wiring.
[ Forever chemicals: They’re in your drinking water and likely your food. Read the Tribune investigation ]
This was reported by the EPA on Tuesday intends to claim utility services to permanently limit concentrations of the two chemicals in drinking water to 4 parts per trillion, the amount the agency says is the lowest at which PFOS and PFOA can be accurately detected. Four other PFASs, including replacements for the original chemicals Scotchgard and Teflon, will also be regulated for the first time.
“This is a huge step forward,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “There’s no doubt there’s more to be done.”
Although the new limits will require expensive repairs to thousands of utilities across the country, for now it appears that Chicago and other Illinois communities that depend on Lake Michigan for drinking water will not be required to do anything other than test for chemicals. .
Limited testing Chicago Department of Water Management and Illinois EPA found chemicals permanently in treated Lake Michigan water, but at levels below new federal standards.
Peoria, where PFASs have been detected at up to 12.9 parts per trillion, is the largest city in Illinois that will need to improve its treatment process, according to an analysis of water tests conducted by the state over the past two years and published by the Chicago Tribune.
In the Chicago area, a state audit found PFAS exceeds new federal standards in Cary, Channahon, Crest Hill, Fox Lake, Lake in the Hills, Marengo, Rockdale, South Elgin and Sugar Grove. All these communities belong to the well; some have stopped using the most polluted sources of drinking water.
[ How to reduce your exposure to PFAS: Avoid microwave popcorn, water-resistant makeup, nonstick pans ]
President Joe Biden and Regan, the former top environmental regulator in North Carolina appointed to lead the EPA, took office promising to regulation of PFAS is a priority after years of promises but little action from the federal government. It has largely been abandoned since the early 2000s trial lawyers undermine industry studies and other records from PFAS manufacturers and demand payment and compensation for damages caused by the chemicals.
“Today we can celebrate a major victory for public health in this country,” said Rob Bilot, a Cincinnati attorney who has begun scrutiny of Forever’s chemicals with lawsuits he filed against DuPont in Ohio and West Virginia during the 2000s.
“It took too long to get to this point,” Bilot said. “But the scientific facts and the truth about the health threat posed by these man-made poisons have finally prevailed over decades of corporate cover-ups and disinformation campaigns designed to mislead the public and delay action.”
Once secretly Documents 3m Excavations by Bilot and the Minnesota attorney general’s office show that top executives at the Minnesota-based conglomerate knew about the harmful effects of Forever’s chemicals as far back as the 1950s. 3M has not started to tell the EPA what it knew on PFOS and PFOA until 1998—more than two decades after Congress passed the nation’s first chemical safety law.
3M and DuPont once called chemicals the wonders of science. But PFASs end up in lakes, rivers and wells after being washed through sewage treatment plants and spread from factory smokestacks. Forever’s chemicals also leach from products such as carpets, clothing, kitchen utensils, cosmetics, dental floss, fast food wrappers, firefighting foam, food packaging, microwave popcorn bags, paper plates, pizza boxes, rain jackets and skis. wax
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly every American has PFAS in their bodies. Babies are born with chemicals in their blood.
Scientists are finding that small concentrations can cause testicular and kidney cancer, birth defects, liver damage, impaired fertility, immune system disorders, high cholesterol and obesity. A link with breast cancer and other diseases is suspected.
The main manufacturers, 3M and DuPont, have almost paid up 2 billion dollars combined to settle PFAS-related lawsuits without accepting responsibility for contaminated drinking water or illnesses suffered by people exposed to the chemicals. 3M has long argued that the chemicals are not harmful at levels normally found in humans.
Under a November settlement between the EPA and 3M, the company is testing wells and public water systems near one of its PFAS manufacturing plants in Cordoba, Illinois, where for decades it has been dumping chemicals without restrictions into the Mississippi River about 15 miles upstream from the Quad Cities.
Drinking water in a community in the region is contaminated with the chemicals Scotchgard and Teflon at concentrations of up to 6.3 ppm, exceeding the standards announced Tuesday.
A Chicago Tribune investigation in 2022 found more than that 1,600 other potential sources PFAS in Illinois through a national analysis of industry codes that indicate the type of product being produced or used. Only California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida have more sites on the list of suspected polluters.
According to the Tribune, more than 60% of Illinois facilities are located in Chicago and its suburbs. There is at least one potential industrial source in 85 of the state’s 102 counties, but there are still no limits on the amount of PFAS contamination that is released into the air or discharged into sewers.
The new drinking water standards will likely lead to the first-ever national limits on industrial pollution and could lead to limits on PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge distributed in farmers and gardeners as free fertilizer.
Some industry groups are already worried about being forced to clean up the mess they blame on 3M, DuPont and other PFAS makers.
Tom Dobbins, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, said the trade group for some of the nation’s largest systems is “concerned about the overall costs that drinking water utilities will incur to comply with this proposed rule.”
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The EPA estimates that compliance with PFAS standards will cost utilities $772 million annually. Dobbins noted that just one system, the Cape Fear utility in North Carolina, cost $43 million to filter PFAS from drinking water.
Utilities will be eligible to apply for federal grants and low-interest loans after Congress appropriates money for water and sewer improvements each year. Regan said the EPA will work closely with utilities in low-income and rural areas while redistributing some of the $9 billion allocated last year to water projects.
Many utilities already had plans to address PFAS contamination because states began adopting their own standards several years ago in the absence of federal action. More than 20 states accepted or proposed boundaries on PFAS in water, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It remains unclear how the federal standards will affect the proposed rules Illinois EPA. The state agency requires a limit of 2 parts per trillion of PFOA and 7.7 ppt of PFOS in groundwater that supplies public and private wells, and has announced plans to set its own drinking water limits.
For environmental groups and activists who have long demanded federal action, the Biden administration’s proposal is good news.
“Through these decades of lax regulatory oversight, scientific research has revealed an increasing number of ways PFAS destroys our bodies and harms our health,” said David Andrews, senior researcher Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization that has been forever studying chemicals and advocating for federal regulations since the early 2000s. “Actions to reduce impacts cannot be taken soon enough.”