EPA Restricts Toxic PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Found In Drinking Water

WASHINGTON – The Biden Administration's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricted six toxic PFAS chemicals found in drinking water today, the first time the agency has regulated these ubiquitous "forever chemicals" in water.  

As many as 105 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from water systems contaminated by the six PFAS chemicals newly regulated by the EPA at a level exceeding the standards announced today. PFAS chemicals are infamous for their extreme persistence in the environment and widespread pollution; almost no level of exposure is safe for public health.  

“A growing body of scientific research shows that PFAS chemicals are more harmful to human health than previously thought, and at extremely low levels,” said Dr. Anna Reade, director of PFAS advocacy at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Safe water is a human right and reducing exposure to even just six of the thousands of PFAS is a worthy start to tackling this massive public health and environmental crisis.” 

The restrictions on PFAS announced today mark the first time EPA has initiated a final rule on unregulated contaminants in water in 28 years. EPA now has concluded that there is no safe level of PFOA or PFOS exposure and the new rule sets an enforceable limit of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) for each. Four other chemicals -- PFBS, PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX – mostly used as replacements for PFOA and PFOS, will be regulated as a mixture using a “hazard index” approach, and the latter three of these will have individual standards as well.  

A range of harmful health effects have been linked to PFAS exposure including kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, changes in hormone levels, and harmful effects on the liver, kidneys, and immune, nervous, and reproductive systems. 

“The Biden Administration's rule is a breakthrough—a major step forward in restricting toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water. Due to the sustained demands of PFAS-contaminated communities across the country, for the first time in three decades the agency has initiated and finalized a rule for an unregulated drinking water contaminant,” said Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for health at NRDC.  

“Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ have created a national public health crisis. It’s a five-alarm fire,” Olson said.  


The six chemicals regulated by the EPA in drinking water today are part of a large class of synthetic chemicals that are widely used in industry and commerce, found in everything from food processing and packaging to cosmetics, artificial turf, guitar strings, and much more. These rules just address their prevalence in drinking water.  

As more research has become available, health-based limits for PFAS in drinking water have become dramatically stricter.    

  • In 2009, EPA established provisional health advisories for PFOA at 400 ppt and for PFOS at 200 ppt. 
  • In 2016, EPA set a lifetime health advisory of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS combined.  
  • In 2022, EPA published interim lifetime health advisories of 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS. 
  • In 2023, EPA proposed health-based maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs) for PFOA and PFOS of 0 ppt.  


The six PFAS chemicals will be regulated as follows:  

  • PFOA and PFOS: As EPA now considers there is no safe level of PFOA or PFOS exposure, the new rule sets an enforceable limit (Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL) of 4 ppt for each of these two chemicals in water, based on technological limitations. These chemicals were largely phased out from US manufacture but still are widespread drinking water contaminants. 
  • PFBS, PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX: These four PFAS chemicals, mostly used as replacements for PFOA and PFOS, will be regulated as a mixture using a “hazard index” approach. In addition, three (PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX) also will be regulated with individual MCLs of 10 ppt each. Under the rule, the level detected of each of these four chemicals will be compared to a “Health Based Water Concentration” for the chemical, and then the values for each of these are added together. If the total mixture exceeds EPA’s hazard index, or if any individual MCL is exceeded, this is considered a violation. 

EPA estimates that 83 to 105 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from water systems contaminated at a level exceeding the standards for the six PFAS. Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water, with testing by academic researchers and by Consumer Reports indicating that several brands were contaminated with PFAS as well. PFAS are not regulated in bottled water. Some home water filters have been independently tested to remove PFAS, though they must be correctly installed, used and maintained to ensure PFAS removal. 

Key Solutions to the PFAS Crisis:   

  • Stop adding to the PFAS problem by immediately ending all non-essential uses of PFAS and quickly developing alternatives for currently unavoidable uses. 
  • Manage PFAS as a class, rather than as 14,000+ individual chemicals. 
  • Coordinate action amongst water utilities and state and local governments to quickly remediate PFAS contamination in drinking water, while making sure that these actions do not contribute to a water affordability crisis that raises water rates beyond what is possible for low-income residents to pay. This would include: 
    • Holding polluters accountable by requiring them to pay for cleanup and the cost of delivering safe water to impacted communities; and 
    • Establishing a water affordability program including structuring water rates to ensure that low-income consumers can pay their water bills. See Water Affordability Toolkit for additional information on options to ensure water affordability. 

Additional Resources: 

What to Watch for in the EPA’s Final PFAS Rule (March 2024) 

The public health risks of PFAS-related immunotoxicity are real (Current Environmental Health Reports, Commentary by NRDC’s Reade and Pelch, March 2024) 

Public Comments to the EPA over EPA’s Proposed PFAS Rules by NRDC and 35 additional organizations (May 2023) 

Federal Drinking Water Monitoring Overlooks Many PFAS (Community-led water testing finds dangerous levels of PFAS that the EPA does not test for, April 2023) 

It’s Time to Stop the Unnecessary Use of Harmful Chemicals (January 2023) 

The Scientific Basis for Managing PFAS as a Chemical Class (June 2020) 

Making Our Water Safe AND Affordable (May 2023) 

Additional Public Comments to the EPA Concerning the “Affordability” of Proposed PFAS Rules by NRDC and 38 additional organizations (May 2023) 



NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC. 


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