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EPA proposes first-ever PFAS drinking water standards

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a new warning that no level of PFAS in water is safe. (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)
The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a new warning that no level of PFAS in water is safe. (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

In an overdue but highly anticipated action, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced today the first-ever national drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals. Folks in communities contaminated by PFAS chemicals are celebrating the monumental step in federal regulations.

Michigan already has PFAS drinking water standards, which set maximum limits on the allowable level of eight of the chemicals in drinking water.

But the EPA’s proposed standards for PFOA and PFOS - two of the most toxic and abundant compounds - are more protective and apply to everyone.

“It’s one of those things you don’t believe until it really happens,” said Cathy Wusterbarth.

Wusterbarth is with the Oscoda citizen group Need Our Water. She said the standards, if enacted, will spur more clean-up in her community.

“There are dozens of water supplies that would be impacted by these numbers,” Wusterbarth said. “And I think the State of Michigan needs to be ready for that, and I know that community members are ready.”

The EPA standards propose to set a maximum limit of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water for PFOA and PFOS. (For reference, that’s the equivalent of four drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.) Michigan’s current standards are 8 ppt for PFOA and 16 ppt for PFOS.

The EPA announced PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals would be regulated as a mixture.

“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,” the EPA press release said.

Earlier today, EPA Administrator Michael Regan took to the stage in North Carolina to talk about the impacts of contamination across the country.

“All people deserve clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and the opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilled life,” Regan said. “That’s why the decisions we’re making today are so vital because they have consequences that will last for generations.”

In an email to WCMU, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said it welcomes a more “unified and consistent approach” to PFAS, but it’s too soon to say what this means for regulation in Michigan.

The standards still need to go through a comment period before they can be enacted. Regan said the goal is to implement the federal standards later this year.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corp Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She is covering rural environmental issues, public health and Michigan commerce. Homsi has a bachelor’s from Central Michigan University in environmental studies, journalism and anthropology. During her undergraduate, she was a beat reporter for CMU’s student newspaper Central Michigan Life and interned for the Huron Daily Tribune. She has also interned for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy in the superfund section. *Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms, more info at
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