What EPA’s Proposed PFAS Regulations Could Mean for Ohio’s Drinking Water

Newly proposed federal regulations on PFAS in drinking water could lead to big changes in Ohio.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed strict limits for six types of PFAS chemicals. Known as “timeless chemicals,” they never break down in the environment and have been linked to a range of serious health problems, from developmental delay in children to certain types of cancer.

If refined, the EPA proposal will be the first federal restriction on PFAS chemicals, setting standards that go much further than most current state laws and previous federal guidelines for PFAS.

For the two most common chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, the EPA has proposed limits of 4 ppt, the lowest level that tests can detect.

Higher levels have been found in water sources across the state, including in the Ohio Riverwhich provides drinking water to more than 5 million people.

“It’s not a red state issue, or a blue state issue, or an urban issue, or a rural issue,” says John Rumpler, senior environmental attorney for Ohio and director of Environment America’s Clean Water Campaign. “This is a toxic threat to our drinking water that affects all Americans in all communities.”

Some water utilities already remove PFAS chemicals in water treatment, but not all. And if EPA restrictions go into effect, all utilities will be required to do so, and compliance can be costly.

“This is a toxic threat to our drinking water that affects all Americans in all communities.”

John Rumpler, Senior Associate at Environment America

The cost of clean water

The EPA estimates that compliance with the proposed PFAS restrictions will cost more than $772 million per year nationwide.

The federal government has already earmarked $9 billion through a bipartisan infrastructure bill specifically for communities that clean up contaminated water. States also have access to money from the EPA’s State Drinking Water Revolving Fund.

But Association of State Drinking Water Administrators warns that as utilities install costly technology to remove PFAS from treated water, water bills are likely to rise.

Rumpler says this is unfair to taxpayers.

“That’s why it’s so important that we actually phase out the use of these toxic chemicals and other toxic substances,” he says, “so that we don’t get stuck with billions of dollars in cleanup costs due to the negligence of chemical companies and manufacturers.” “.

Attorneys general from more than a dozen states are suing chemical manufacturers to help clean up PFAS-contaminated water. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has not yet commented on whether he plans to join their ranks.

Meanwhile, the American Chemical Association, which represents chemical manufacturers, questions the scientific basis of the EPA’s recommendations.

“We have serious concerns about the scientific basis used to develop these proposed MCLs. [maximum contaminant levels] and have previously challenged the EPA based on the process used to advance this science,” the organization said in a statement. “The EPA’s misguided approach to these MCLs is significant as these low limits are likely to result in billions of dollars in compliance costs.”

What’s next?

EPA’s proposed rules must go through a public comment period before they go into effect.

But some version of the proposed rules is expected to come into effect by the end of the year.

When this happens, it will likely take several years for the water companies to obtain and build the necessary technology.

In rural communities, removing PFAS from drinking water will take even longer.

“Many people in rural areas rely on groundwater and their own wells rather than a water utility that can gather resources for cleanup,” says Rumpler.

He says the EPA proposal is a big step towards making public health a priority.

“The limits proposed by the EPA are based on the best available scientific evidence showing that these chemicals can affect human health even at very low levels,” he says.

The EPA estimates that the country could save over a billion dollars by preventing the need for treatment for PFAS-related illnesses.

“In short,” Rumpler says, “don’t trade convenience for cancer.”

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