What You Need To Know About Toxic 'Forever Chemicals' In Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to strengthen protections against the "forever chemicals" found in clothing, nonstick cookware, and fast-food packaging, to name a few (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). These chemicals are called "forever chemicals" because they are resistant to breakdown and can move through the water and food chain.

Last week, four new health advisories were established for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, because the 2016 advisories identified safe concentrations as too high, per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While these health advisories aren't law, the EPA believed the advisories were necessary until it proposes the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation this fall. In the meantime, the EPA hopes that states will use the $1 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to protect small and disadvantaged communities from these contaminants. These funds can be used to help with actions such as water quality testing and water treatment systems.

The EPA says it's looking to better understand how to properly dispose of PFAS and remove them from drinking water.

Why are PFAS harmful?

In today's notice in the Federal Register, the EPA recognized that concentrations of PFOS and PFOA, two particularly harmful PFAS, were much more harmful than what was previously understood (via The U.S. Government Publishing Office). The notice said that exposure to PFOA and PFOS can affect the immune and cardiovascular systems. Because these chemicals also affect human development, they can also reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in children.

GenX chemicals, which were also listed in the EPA advisory, can affect kidney and liver health as well as the immune system, among other things. The fourth type of PFAS, PFBS, affects the thyroid and reproductive systems.

A recent study in Hypertension found that women who had a high concentration of PFAS in their systems were more likely to develop high blood pressure.

The EPA proposed a PFAS Strategic Roadmap in October 2021 to research the path of PFAS through our ecosystem and research ways to prevent the chemicals from reaching our environment. The roadmap also seeks to penalize any PFAS polluters.