water pollution in the USA
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The USA establishes threshold limits for eternal pollutants in running water

This new regulation is expected to reduce exposure to PFAS by approximately 100 million people, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These synthetic molecules are used, in particular, in waterproof textiles, non-stick pans (Teflon) or even detergents and cosmetics.

Impunity ends in the taps: the American authorities announced, establishing threshold limits in running water for PFAS, nicknamed eternal pollutants, a first at the national level in the country, which illustrates growing awareness of the health dangers of these chemicals.

This new regulation should help reduce exposure to PFAS by around 100 million people, and prevent thousands of deaths, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is the strongest action ever taken on PFAS by the EPA, according to ts boss, Michael Regan.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) are a large family of synthetic molecules used since the 1940s and having been developed for their heat resistance or even their impermeability. They are for example used in waterproof textiles, non-stick pans (Teflon), certain detergents and cosmetics, and in many other objects.

Problem: these properties make them almost indestructible, allowing them to accumulate in nature or the human body. However, exposure to certain PFAS has been linked to cancers and can affect fertility or the development of young children, the EPA stressed.

Many of them can be harmful to our health and the environment

There is no doubt that these chemical compounds have been important to certain industries and certain consumer uses. But there is also no doubt that many of them can be harmful to our health and the environment.

Elsewhere too, PFAS are increasingly being targeted by the authorities: in France, for example, the National Assembly approved at first reading the ban on certain products containing PFAS.

The US government announced its intention to take action on PFAS in drinking water about a year ago. The regulations are now finalized, following a public consultation period. In detail, it concerns five types of PFAS – notably PFOA and PFOS, the most studied and the most often detected.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 6% and 10% of public drinking water systems (66,000 in total) will need to take steps to comply with the new standards. They will first have three years to test their water and inform the population of the pollution levels observed. They will then have two additional years to act, for example by installing specific filters.

A billion dollars to finance the installations

Joe Biden’s government announced the provision of a billion dollars to help finance these installations – funds from a major infrastructure renovation law adopted in 2021. Ten American states already had limits for PFAS in drinking water, and they will be able to keep them if they are stricter than the national limits. Other countries, as well as the European Union, also already have threshold limits.

But those announced by the United States are among the strictest in the world, if not the strictest, according to Melanie Benesh, of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization very engaged on this subject. The new regulations are historic, this is a major victory for public health in the United States, according to pollution and waste management experts.

The Biden government announced it would tackle PFAS in 2021, launching actions on several fronts. In February, American health authorities, for example, announced the end of the sale of food packaging containing PFAS (fast food packaging, takeaway meals, popcorn bags, etc.), thus removing one of the main sources of dietary exposure.

The EPA also announced that it was asking companies working for the US administration to purchase cleaning products that do not contain PFAS. Among future actions still expected: The EPA is working to designate several types of PFAS as hazardous substances.

But much work remains to end PFAS pollution, according to the president of the EWG organization. These chemicals now contaminate every American from birth. And that’s because, for generations, PFAS have slipped over every environmental law like a fried egg on a Teflon pan.

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