Let Them Drink PFAS: Chemical Industry, Water Utilities Seek to Block Protections Against Toxic “Forever Chemicals” in Drinking Water

WASHINGTON ­— The chemical industry and water utility trade associations filed lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to limit six toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water. PFAS, known as forever chemicals, are infamous for their extreme toxicity, persistence in the environment and widespread pollution; almost no level of exposure is safe for public health.   

The Biden Administration EPA’s protections against PFAS, announced in April, marked the first time the agency has issued a standard for a new chemical in tap water in 28 years under a complex process established in 1996. The water utility lawsuit was filed Friday, June 7 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The American Chemistry Council and National Association of Manufacturers filed today. NRDC is evaluating its legal options and may intervene to support EPA’s standards.  

“The chemical industry and water utilities publicly declare their commitment to safe drinking water, yet now they turn around and claim in court that there is no law, no science, and no need for rules that protect drinking water from toxic PFAS pollution. They have long downplayed how dangerous these forever chemicals are. It’s outrageous,” said Erik D. Olson, senior strategic director for health at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Duplicitous and self-serving arguments by the chemical industry and water utilities must no longer dictate whether millions of families can trust the water from their kitchen tap. People need these EPA standards to protect their drinking water and their families’ health.” 

“The science is clear. These PFAS have been well-studied and linked to multiple serious health harms. Water utilities and the chemical industry are sowing doubt despite the overwhelming weight of evidence that forever chemicals are a threat to human health,” said Dr. Anna Reade, Director of PFAS Advocacy at NRDC. 


The six chemicals regulated by the EPA in drinking water are part of a large class of more than 14,000 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. The EPA rules just address the prevalence of six PFAS in drinking water. According to EPA, as many as 105 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from water systems contaminated by PFAS chemicals at a level exceeding the new standards. As NRDC and many other groups focused on ensuring water affordability have emphasized, there are many ways for water utilities to ensure that their water is both safe from PFAS contamination and affordable.  

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

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, based on feasibility. 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.  The new standards mark the first time in 28 years that EPA has used its longstanding authority and jumped all hurdles established by the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments to regulate new unregulated contaminants. 

Bottled water is not necessarily any safer than tap water, with testing by academic researchers and by independent labs indicating that several brands were contaminated with PFAS as well. PFAS are not regulated in bottled water. A few 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, including by setting a drinking water standard for the full class of PFAS, rather than trying to regulate 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. 
  • Providing additional federal and state resources for PFAS removal and for low-income water assistance and affordability programs.  

Additional Resources:  

Memo to Water Utilities: Don’t Pit Safe Water Against Affordable Water (June 2024) 

EPA Restricts Toxic PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Found In Drinking Water (press release, April 10, 2024) 

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, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd).

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