The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a landmark change to curb ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water — a move that could radically affect nearly every US household.

The first-of-its-kind standards would require public utility companies nationwide to filter out the chemicals to comply new, and significantly limiting standards.

Under the new guidance, drinking water would not be able to contain more than four parts per trillion (ppt) PFOA or PFOS — two common forever chemicals that fall within the PFAS umbrella.

They are a category of human-made chemicals that can cause serious health problems over time, such as cancer, kidney disease and infertility. The EPA hopes it to prevent thousands of deaths in the future by limiting exposure to these chemicals.

Experts warn almost all Americans have been exposed to PFAS due to prevalence in tap water, cookware and clothing. It is estimated that more than 200 million Americans are drinking PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

Drinking water cannot contain more than four parts per trillion for PFOA and four parts per trillion for PFOS under the new proposed rules

Drinking water cannot contain more than four parts per trillion for PFOA and four parts per trillion for PFOS under the new proposed rules

Four other PFAS chemicals will also have limits set in place, including FNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and HFPO-DA (commonly known as Gen X).

For PFOS and PFOA in particular, no detectable levels of the chemicals will be allowed anymore. 

The six PFAS the EPA is enforcing legal limits on are known to appear in drinking water. 

Many of the nation’s utility companies will have to install new water treatment devices to comply with the changes, as current processes do not filter PFAS enough.

In some cases, water providers will have to find a different source for water, according to the EPA.

The agency estimated it would cost $772million annually to upgrade water treatment plants, Politico reports.

Most of these costs will be passed on to consumers through their water bills. But, they project around $1billion saved from decreased medical costs down the line.

The chemicals enter drinking water when products containing them are used or spilled onto the ground or into lakes and rivers. 

Once in groundwater, PFAS can travel long distances and contaminate drinking wells. 

PFAS in the air can also get into rivers and lakes, which are often used for drinking water. 

There will be a public consultation period on the EPA’s suggested limits before they are finalized. 

PFAS chemicals are used as oil and water repellents and coatings for common products including cookware, carpets, and textiles.

The substances disrupt the body’s hormone systems and do not break down when released into the environment. 

They will indefinitely continue to collect in the environment if left without cleaning or filtration. 

PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies near facilities where the chemicals are used.

They also enter the food supply through food packaging materials and contaminated soil.

The EPA change puts the US ahead of many peer nations in regulating the chemicals. In the UK, for example, there are no standards for PFAS in drinking water. 

Michael Regan, administrator of the EPA, said Tuesday: ‘Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution.’

He added: ‘This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.’

Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at watchdog group Consumer Reports, said: ‘No one should have to worry about ingesting toxic forever chemicals in the water they drink every time they turn on the tap at home.

He added: ‘We’re pleased that the EPA has proposed strict limits on these PFAS chemicals based on the best science available and look forward to supporting these standards in the months ahead. We urge the EPA to do all it can to finalize these rules by the end of the year.’

Concerned about the chemicals’ ability to weaken children’s immune systems, the EPA said last year that PFAS could cause harm at levels ‘much lower than previously understood.’

There is evidence the compounds are linked to low birthweight, kidney cancer and a slew of other health issues.

Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, senior attorney, toxic exposure and health at Earthjustice, previously said the drinking water limits would ‘help ensure that communities are not being poisoned.’

Over the last decade, an increasing number of cities and towns, often abutting manufacturing plants and ever Air Force bases, realized they had a problem. 

In 2016, for example, Sarah McKinney was on maternity leave when she got word there was too much PFOA and PFOS in the tap water in her Colorado Springs suburb.

She picked up her weeks-old daughter and hustled out to buy enough bottled water for her family of five.

‘If I’m just spitting it out, can I brush my teeth?’ she remembered wondering.

In response to concerns from people who had been drinking the water for years, Ms McKinney’s water utility switched to a different source.

It also provided water bottle filling stations and installed a $2.5million treatment system that was the first of its kind in the country, according to a local official.

The chemicals had gotten into the water from nearby Peterson Air Force base, which then built a treatment facility.

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