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EPA proposes first-ever national standard on PFAS in drinking water

March 14, 2023
Learn about newly proposed national standards on PFAS, the "forever chemicals" linked to health issues, in drinking water in the United States.
Elizabeth S. Leaver, Digital content manager

In what it calls “a major step to protect public health from PFAS pollution,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on March 14 that for the first time, it’s proposing enforceable regulations for six “forever chemicals”— perfluoralkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—in US drinking water.

According to an agency press release, if finalized the proposal would regulate two chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, as individual contaminants (with a threshold of 4 nanograms per liter) and the four others—PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals—as a mixture. For that “mixture,” water systems would determine if their combined levels pose a potential risk.

“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution. That’s why President Biden launched a whole-of-government approach to aggressively confront these harmful chemicals, and EPA is leading the way forward,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in the release. “EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities."

Known for their water-resistant and nonstick properties, PFAS have in recent years been found in dangerous concentrations in drinking water, soils, and foods. According to the EPA:

  • PFAS are widely used, long-lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time.
  • Because of their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, many PFAS are found worldwide in the blood of people and animals and at low levels in many food products and in the environment.
  • Studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects.
  • There are more than 12,000 known PFAS chemicals, and they're found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products. This makes it challenging to study and assess the potential human health and environmental risks.

PFAS and dentistry

In late December 2022, following a “raft of litigation,” 3M, which produces dental products such as adhesives, composites, bonding agents, and more, set a 2025 deadline to stop producing PFAS, a decision prompted by mounting legal pressure over the damage caused by the chemicals. Due to 3M’s “scale and position as one of the world’s largest producers of PFAS,” its decision to stop producing the chemicals is expected to make a palpable impact.

PFAS have also made news in dentistry due to their use in coated floss. In September 2022, testing done by EHN.org on 39 brands of floss found evidence of the chemicals in a third of the samples, with levels ranging from 11 ppm to 248,900 ppm. The results were part of joint testing on ordinary products for evidence of the chemical, with advocates urging “companies and trade associations like the American Dental Association [to] ‘stop approving of any dental product that contains any forever PFAS compound.’”

About the Author

Elizabeth S. Leaver | Digital content manager

Elizabeth S. Leaver was the digital content manager for Endeavor Business Media's dental group from 2021-2024. She has a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and many years of experience working in niche industries specializing in creating content, editing, content marketing, and publishing digital and magazine content. She lives in the Boston area.