ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New federal efforts to improve drinking water were announced this week which specifically aim to protect communities here and around the country from what’s known as “forever chemicals” or PFAs.

The ‘per-fluorinated chemical substances’ are human-made molecules originally designed to help across a variety of industries, such as make up products, textiles, waterproof or resistant items, etc. While they can be useful in a lot of ways research over the past decade-or-so shows long-term exposure to these chemicals can have severe negative impacts on human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now calling for the creation of the first-ever national drinking water standard to combat PFAS pollution. This is a proposal and is geared to build off of the Biden Administration’s 2021 action plan to combat PFAS pollution.

“They have a lot of useful purposes; if you think of a non-stick pot, right, and how things don’t stick to it — that’s because of perfluorinated substances, so those PFAS. Those handy properties are also what make them problematic,” says Dr. Paige Lawrence, Chair of URMC’S Department of Environmental Medicine. She also runs URMC’s Institute for Human Health and the Environment.

One of the largest places where these chemicals are found is in firefighting foams and research is connecting these chemicals to certain illnesses and health issues. Charles Ruffing is a Research Associate Professor at RIT and the Director of the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute within Golisano Institute for Sustainability. He explains some of the science behind PFAS and how

“The main problem with them is that carbon-fluorine bond is not attackable in nature so these compounds do not biodegrade and so they stick around for a long time and we’re finding that people are starting to accumulate them in their bodies even if they’re not directly exposed because these things have such a long lifetime,” Ruffing says.

“They have been associated with effects on the nervous system, the cardiovascular system and the immune system, and so we have evidence that they cause those effects — we might not know exactly what, molecularly, how they do that — but I think we have enough evidence to take the precaution to say we want to reduce exposure to them,” Dr. Lawrence adds.

While there are several thousand of these types of chemicals out there, the EPA’s proposal would require public water systems to monitor six of them.

“The proposed standard of 4-parts-per-trillion — very, very small amounts. If that proposal comes into law, public water sources will have to test for these PFAS’ just like they test for a series of other chemicals,” says Ruffing.

News8 did reach out to the NYS DEC about this topic and the agency provided us with the following statement.

Joint statement from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Department of Health (DOH):

New York State applauds President Biden and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Regan for recently proposing enforceable national drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, and proposing additional actions to limit exposure to PFNA, GenX, PFHxS, and PFBS. To be clear, all New York State public drinking water is already required to meet federal and state drinking water standards, and state residents can continue to drink their water unless told otherwise by their public water system, or the local or state health department. As a state that is committed to having the safest drinking water possible, we look forward to working with the EPA in advancing public health protections of drinking water supplies. DOH and DEC will be thoroughly evaluating the EPA’s regulatory proposal and tracking its progress as we continue with aggressive actions to reduce New Yorkers’ PFAS exposure and will advance the state’s regulatory program using the best available science to ensure protections for water quality and public health.

Additional Info:

EPA advises communities and water systems to follow applicable state requirements, which are enforceable, as EPA’s proposed rule does not currently require water systems or NY residents to take any action at this point.

NYS MCL Timeline:

— In 2020, the Department of Health adopted the recommendations of the Drinking Water Quality Council (DWQC) to set health-based, feasible and enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS.

— Amendments to Public Health Law (PHL) 1112 signed by Gov. Hochul in December 2021 required the Department to draft and then promulgate regulations for 23 additional PFAS emerging contaminants.

— In May of 2022, the Drinking Water Quality Council (DWQC) recommended regulating these 23 PFAS.

— On October 5, 2022, the Department issue the proposed regulations for 23 additional emerging contaminants in drinking water, which were published in the State Register. That was followed by a 60-day public review and comment period.

— The Department is in the process of reviewing and responding to the comments before the regulations are considered for formal adoption.

— For nearly two years, NYS has had a highly successful drinking water standard program for PFOA and PFOS. Our state standards have allowed us to identify public water systems with elevated PFOA and PFOS, and take action to reduce these levels to prevent exposure and health risks.