Best way to meet EPA’s new PFAS drinking water standards is pollution control at the source, says SELC
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The best way to meet the protective new standards announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency is to stop PFAS or “forever chemicals” pollution at its source before it gets into drinking water sources and burdens downstream communities. Today’s announcement comes after new EPA guidance to state agencies in December 2022 that authority under existing laws should be used to stop PFAS pollution at its source without waiting for future regulations.
“EPA has taken an essential step forward by proposing these critical drinking water standards, which are a necessary backstop to ensure that water flowing into our taps is not contaminated with PFOA, PFOS, GenX or the other PFAS included in today’s announcement,” said Geoff Gisler, program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center who led successful litigation against Chemours in North Carolina to stop GenX and other PFAS pollution of the Cape Fear and drinking water for about 300,000 people. “The EPA recognizes that existing law already requires all sources to disclose their PFAS pollution and that permitting agencies have the responsibility now to reduce or eliminate discharges of these forever chemicals through the permitting process. If those existing laws are enforced, drinking water utilities will be able to meet these standards and keep our communities safe from the PFAS covered by today’s announcement and others that are not.”
As EPA has recognized, mixtures of PFAS—estimated to number in the thousands–pose a significant health risk. It should broaden its approach to capture more PFAS than the six identified today in its proposal.
PFAS are not removed by conventional water treatment so keeping them out of drinking water sources is critical to avoid burdening downstream communities. Known as “forever chemicals,” they do not dissipate, dissolve, or degrade but stay in water, soil, and our bodies.
SELC’s litigation under existing laws led to a consent order among Cape Fear River Watch, the state and Chemours to stop at least 99% of PFAS pollution that contaminated drinking water supplies for about people in communities along the Cape Fear River.
Following a lawsuit against the Chemours Company for its years of GenX and other PFAS pollution in eastern North Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center and our client, Cape Fear River Watch, continue to enforce the terms of a resulting consent order with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Chemours to stop the GenX and other PFAS pollution at its source and ensure the Cape Fear River is safe for downstream communities. The river is the drinking water source for Wilmington, North Carolina and Pender and Brunswick Counties downstream. GenX and other PFAS have been found in their treated drinking water at high levels.
A graphic showing the pathways of PFAS contamination can be viewed here.
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