Pa. moves forward with rule to limit ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

Written by on November 23, 2021

Pa. moves forward with rule to limit ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water

By Rachel McDevitt, StateImpact Pennsylvania
November 23, 2021

The state DEP has proposed new rules on drinking water for Pennsylvania’s nearly 3,000 public water systems. (Photo | WLVR)

Pennsylvania’s environmental oversight board is moving forward with regulations for what are known as “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

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The rule is years in the making. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network petitioned the Environmental Quality Board in 2017 to set a limit on PFOA in the Delaware River. PFOA is one chemical from the group of contaminants known as PFAS.

PFAS have been used to make things from cookware to clothing to firefighting foam. They do not break down in the environment.

Exposure to PFAS is linked to developmental issues and weakened immune systems.

Last week the Department of Environmental Protection presented a draft rule on PFAS standards for the state’s nearly 3,000 public water systems to EQB.

Under the proposal, PFOA would be limited to 14 parts per trillion and PFOS would be kept to 18 ppt. That’s much lower than the federal health recommendation of 70 ppt, but higher than the Delaware Riverkeeper’s petition for a PFOA limit between 1-6 ppt.

Lisa Daniels, director of the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water, said DEP expects the rule will cost water systems more than $121 million a year for treatment and monitoring.

But it projects costs will be offset by a 93 percent reduction in health risks linked to PFAS.

The federal infrastructure bill signed this week by President Joe Biden includes $1.8 billion that can be used to help clean up PFAS over the next five years.

The Environmental Protection Agency is working on its own PFAS standards, but Daniels said it will likely be years before they are in place.

“If the number is lower, then yes, we, like other states, would have to go through the process and amend our regulations to be at least as stringent as EPA,” she said.

EQB voted 17-2 to advance the proposal.

In a statement, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network criticized DEP for not moving faster on the regulation.

“Pennsylvania residents, workers, and visitors have been exposed to this highly toxic compound for additional periods of time due to DEP’s regulatory inaction and delays, increasing their risk of developing adverse health effects linked to PFOA,” the group said.

DRN added it will continue to advocate for stricter standards for more PFAS chemicals and to expand testing locations.

DEP is recommending a 60-day public comment period and at least 5 public hearings be held on the proposal.

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