Biden-Harris administration establishes first-ever national drinking water standards for PFAS

April 16, 2024

New PFAS drinking water standards aim to enhance public and environmental safety

On April 10, 2024, the Biden-Harris Administration introduced the first national drinking water standards addressing per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals’.

These regulations are designed to mitigate public health risks associated with PFAS, which have been linked to severe health conditions, including cancers and liver and heart diseases.

Notably, PFAS compounds are components in certain types of firefighting foams, which have been identified as a significant source of environmental contamination.

The new standards are expected to reduce PFAS exposure for an estimated 100 million Americans, significantly impacting communities with histories of PFAS pollution.

Federal funding to support PFAS elimination in firefighting and public water systems

Accompanying the standards, the EPA announced a nearly $1 billion initiative funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to facilitate PFAS testing and treatment in public water systems and aid private well owners.

This funding is part of a broader $9 billion effort focused on combating PFAS contamination, often originating from firefighting foams and industrial activities.

This initiative represents the largest federal commitment to addressing the challenges posed by PFAS in the environment.

Firefighting foams and public safety

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan expressed the urgency of addressing PFAS contamination: “Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long, particularly where firefighting foams have been used extensively.

“That is why President Biden has prioritized tackling PFAS, dedicating historic resources to mitigate these harmful chemicals and protect communities nationwide.

“Our strategic approach harnesses the full scope of EPA’s authority to safeguard the public from these enduring chemicals.”

The new regulations specify limits for five individual PFAS chemicals and additional limits for mixtures, directly impacting firefighting practices involving PFAS foams.

Public water systems are required to initiate monitoring within three years, with mandatory reductions in PFAS levels within five years if they exceed the established standards.

Ongoing federal efforts to secure clean water

Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, highlighted the broader implications of the new standards: “The first national drinking water standards for PFAS marks a significant step towards delivering on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing environmental justice, protecting communities, and securing clean water for people across the country.”

These measures are supported by $21 billion in total funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, aimed at enhancing the nation’s drinking water systems and specifically addressing PFAS contamination, a common issue in areas affected by firefighting foam usage.

FSJA Comment

The introduction of these PFAS standards is a critical development for the fire safety sector, particularly regarding the use of firefighting foams containing these chemicals.

These foams, while effective in extinguishing fires, have contributed significantly to environmental PFAS pollution, posing long-term health risks to firefighters and communities alike.

This proactive regulatory approach demonstrates a significant advancement in public health protection and environmental safety, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing effort to ensure that the firefighting practices contribute positively to public and environmental health.

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