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EPA announces PFAS are more dangerous than once thought

Courtesy of the North Carolina National Guard

Tony Spaniola was at the National PFAS Contamination Conference when the new federal advisories were announced June 15. He said the announcement received a standing ovation from the crowd of scientists, policymakers and community leaders.

"It was a very moving moment for some people who didn't think they would ever see this in their lifetime," Spaniola said.

The EPA’s new health advisories show that PFAS are more dangerous than previously thought, which may spur more regulation and accountability of the toxic “forever chemicals.”

In 2016, the accepted limit for PFOA - one of several PFAS chemicals - in drinking water was at 70 parts per trillion. Now, the EPA has lowered that number to .004 parts per trillion. This means that PFOA is 75,000 times more toxic than previously thought.

Spaniola is a co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network and member of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition. He said these findings confirm what advocates have been saying for years. Though "long overdue," he said it's a step in the right direction to regulate PFAS.

“We've got to start to turn the tide to reverse this decade's long neglect of our health and our environment," Spaniola said. "This is not the end of the problem. This is the beginning of a new direction to solve it in a meaningful way.”

Spaniola said he hopes the findings will shift how legal systems view contaminants - and assume they’re unsafe “until proven innocent.”

"Suppose you're sitting in a restaurant full of people with water glasses at their table - if I walked into that restaurant with an eyedropper and just started dropping just one drop in everybody's glass, I'd be thrown out on my rear and arrested," Spaniola said. "Yet, the chemical companies and the Department of Defense effectively do that and for years have gotten off scot free.”

The EPA is offering $1 billion dollars in grants to support communities facing contamination. The EPA also announced its plans to propose a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation this fall.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.