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EPA proposes new limits for forever chemicals, sets aside money for Oklahoma to address them

A lake with greenish waters in the foreground, tree-covered mountains in the background. The sky is blue with friendly-looking clouds.
Graycen Wheeler

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule to set legally enforceable limits for PFAS, also called “forever chemicals.”

PFAS is short for polyfluoroalkyl substances—humanmade chemicals we use in non-stick cookware and waterproof clothes. They’re called forever chemicals because they don’t break down over time. Instead they build up in the environment and in our bodies, where their effects are still unclear.

Up until now, the EPA has only set health advisory levels for PFAS—recommendations to make sure people are receiving safe water.

This rule would require public water suppliers to monitor PFAS levels and let their customers know what they find, which currently isn’t required. If the rule goes into effect, water suppliers with too many PFAS in their water would need to take action to lower them.

For some forever chemicals, the limit would be 4 parts per trillion. For reference, if you dumped a shot glass full of food coloring into Lake Overholser, the concentration of food coloring in the lake would be about 4 parts per trillion.

That’s the lowest level of PFAS we can detect with current methods, so any system with detectable forever chemicals in their water would be in violation of the proposed standard. The EPA’s health advisory level is 1000 times lower than the proposed enforceable limit—4 parts per quadrillion.

Earlier this month, the EPA also announced that it would allocate almost $21 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for grants to help Oklahoma water supplies address PFAS contamination.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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