EPA to ‘aggressively confront’ PFAS with first-ever proposed standard

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is proposing the first-ever national drinking water standard for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.”

The much anticipated announcement is the latest action under President Joe Biden’s plan to combat PFAS pollution and EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. Through this action, EPA is proposing to legally establish enforceable levels for six types of human-made PFAS known to occur in drinking water.

If finalized, the proposed regulation will require public water systems to monitor for these chemicals, notify the public and reduce contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards. EPA anticipates that if fully implemented, the rule will prevent thousands of deaths over time and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.

“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 Regan. “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. This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”

The proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture.

  • PFOA and PFOS: EPA is proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at 4 parts per trillion.
  • PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.

EPA says the proposal builds on other recent actions to combat PFAS, including the agency’s proposal to designate two PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances; enhancing data on PFAS under EPA’s National PFAS Testing Strategy and through nationwide sampling for 29 PFAS in public drinking water systems; using EPA’s Clean Water Act permitting and regulatory programs to reduce PFAS pollution in the environment from industry; and initiating the distribution of $10 billion in funding to address emerging contaminants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

But the rule is also expected to bring major financial challenges for water systems as drinking water utilities may be forced to spend billions on treatment and mitigation measures if the proposal is finalized.

In a press release, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), which represents large drinking water systems across the United States, said it strongly supports sound, science-based regulation to protect public health. But CEO Tom Dobbins added AMWA is “concerned about the overall cost drinking water utilities will incur to comply with this proposed rulemaking.”

EPA estimates that the quantified capital and O&M costs for utilities to comply will be $772 million.

But AMWA explained that, by comparison, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in Wilmington, N.C., estimated that capital cost for its treatment was $43 million, and its annual operating cost was $3-5 million (1). As AMWA points out, if about 16 utilities of similar size to Cape Fear nationwide had to implement similar treatment techniques, the total cost would already exceed EPA’s estimate.

According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA), to meet the proposed standards, more than an estimated 5,000 water systems will have to develop new water sources or install and operate advanced treatment; another 2,500 water systems in states with existing standards will need to adjust existing PFAS treatment systems.

Despite concern about how water systems might deal with the potential costs associated with PFAS mitigation, the proposal has some bipartisan support in Washington.

“I have long supported the implementation of a national drinking water standard to ensure that the water in our communities is clean and safe for consumption,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional PFAS Taskforce. “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction as we work to prevent the future contamination of PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in our water and I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to enforce a high standard of water quality.”

“I applaud Administrator Regan and President Biden for taking this bold step forward that will help ensure our water is safe for New Hampshire families and that parents have the peace of mind they deserve when they turn on the tap,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H). “This has long been a top concern for me and is why as a lead negotiator of the water provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, I fought to include a historic level of funding – $10 billion – to combat PFAS exposure.”

In February 2023, EPA announced the availability of $2 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address emerging contaminants, including PFAS, in drinking water across the country. These funds will promote access to safe and clean water in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities while supporting local economies.

EPA requests input on the proposal from all stakeholders, including the public, water system managers, and public health professionals. Comments may be submitted through the public docket, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114, at regulations.gov.

The proposed PFAS maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are not currently enforceable drinking water standards. EPA is seeking public comment on the proposed rule with a 60-day comment period once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. A public hearing will be held May 4, 2023. EPA has projected that the rule will be finalized near the end of 2023 or early 2024. Once the rule is finalized, drinking water systems will have three years from that date to comply with the new MCLs, according to the proposal.

For more information on this proposal, please visit EPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) webpage.


PFAS are a category of manufactured chemicals that can cause serious health problems, including cancer, if people are exposed to them over a long period of time.  Since EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the Agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap in October 2021, EPA has continued to implement a whole-of-agency approach by advancing science and following the law to safeguard public health, protect the environment, and hold polluters accountable. The actions described in the PFAS Roadmap each represent important and meaningful steps to safeguard communities from PFAS contamination. Cumulatively, these actions will build upon one another and lead to more enduring and protective solutions. In November 2022, EPA released “A Year of Progress Under EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” which underscores key actions taken by the agency during the first year of implementing the PFAS Roadmap.

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