Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are widely used in numerous commercial products due to their unique properties—they resist grease, oil, water, and heat. This helps protect products from stains, corrosion, weather damage, and more throughout manufacturing and transport to final consumption.

However, despite the benefits PFAS provide to consumer goods, the environmental and human health effects are disastrous. PFAS break down incredibly slowly in the environment, therefore they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” This allows them to be persistent within the environment and to continue to increase concentration levels in critical systems such as ground water, drinking water, and soil.

The EPA Establishes PFAS Drinking Water Standards

In March of 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule for PFAS in drinking water. This rule is called the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR), and it will require compliance once finalized and put into effect.

As of April 2024, the EPA announced it set drinking water standards for six types of PFAS. It established legally enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for these six PFAS contaminants. These regulations mark the newest MCLs for drinking water in over 20 years.

Additionally, the EPA identified the “best available technologies” for treating drinking water for PFAS because conventional drinking water treatment methods do not remove PFAS found in source water.

The identified technologies comply with the NPDWR rule; however, they will produce residual PFAS that must be addressed. The 2024 Interim Guidance outlines options available to manage residuals (destruction and disposal) while also minimizing environmental exposures and releases.

The final ruling details the following limits:

  • Enforceable maximum contaminant levels of 4.0 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, individually. This will reduce exposure to these PFAS in US drinking water to the lowest feasible levels for effective implementation.
  • A maximum contaminant level goal, a non-enforceable health-based goal, at zero parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS. This reflects that “there is no level of exposure to these contaminants without risk of health impacts, including certain cancers.”
  • Enforceable MCL, and a MCL goal, of 10 parts per trillion for PFNA, PFHxS and HFPO-DA, the last of which are also known as “GenX Chemicals.”
  • Additional limits for “any mixture of two or more of” PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX Chemicals. PFAS can often be found together in mixtures, and research shows these mixtures may have combined health impacts.

The rule requires that public water systems complete initial monitoring for PFAS within three years and inform the public of the results. If PFAS are detected at levels that exceed standards, then operators must implement corrective solutions within five years.

The EPA estimates this rule will affect 6% to 10% of the United States’ 66,000 public drinking water systems. Public water systems have until 2029 to administer solutions to decrease PFAS that exceeds the MCLs.

Additional PFA Bans in the United States

PFAS have been making headlines as bans, restrictions, and regulations continue to develop surrounding their use.

  • In November of 2023, the EPA enacted a final rule requiring manufacturers that produce, use, or import PFAS for commercial purposes to submit more information to the EPA. The ruling requires companies that have had PFAS in their supply chains at any time since Jan. 1, 2011, to submit information that helps the FDA research, monitor, and regulate these toxic substances. The rule has been updated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which authorizes the EPA to regulate chemical substances in waste and commerce.
    • Manufacturers must submit the chemical’s scientific and commercial name, identification number, molecular structure, import production volume, industrial processing and usage, consumer and commercial use, worker exposure data and test methods used to detect PFAS.
    • There are no exceptions under this PFA reporting rule.
    • The rule does not exempt importers and/or imports. Importers are obligated to report PFAS usage, whether it’s a manufacturer or a supplier.
  • In February of 2024, the FDA announced that the use of grease-proofing materials that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are no longer to be sold or used in US food packaging. This includes food packaging such as fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, take-out paperboard containers, pet food bags, and more. This ban, albeit voluntary, marks the first formal step towards protecting US consumers from potentially harmful food-contact chemicals.

Related Resources:

  1. EPA: Interim Guidance on the Destruction and Disposal of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Materials Containing Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances— Version 2 (2024)
  2. EPA: Toxic Substances Control Act Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances
  3. Key EPA Actions to Address PFAS
  4. All EPA Press Releases Related to PFAS (most recent to least recent)