EPA Takes Action on PFAS

June 12th, 2024

In early April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a long overdue step to protect communities from per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the now-ubiquitous “forever chemicals” linked to deadly cancers and many other health issues.

In its action, the Biden-Harris Administration issued the first-ever legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities against exposure to PFAS. PFAS are found in a host of commonly-used items, including waterproof clothing, firefighting foam, and nonstick cookware, and they’re referred to as forever chemicals because they do not break down. It’s this very reason that PFAS became a critical concern for Tualatin Riverkeepers and the Waterkeeper movement – the chemicals are incredibly stable in the environment and in the human body, meaning that they not only fail to break down, they accumulate over time.

Two of the most widely used chemicals in the PFAS group - Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – were voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers in 2002 (PFOS) and in 2015 (PFOA), they are still manufactured overseas and prominent in imported consumer goods. The action by EPA comes after years of increasing alarm by conservation and public health organizations, and it marks a long-overdue opportunity for monitoring these ubiquitous chemicals. In addition to the ruling, EPA announced $1 billion in new funding to help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems. This funding is part of a $9 billion investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities with drinking water impacted by PFAS and other emerging contaminants.

In the Tualatin River watershed, PFAS levels are generally lower than most watersheds due to our relative lack of manufacturing facilities. Risks remain, however, particularly around landfills in the watershed. The funding being provided for states to implement testing and treatment is laudable, and we're thankful for early and continued monitoring and treatment actions taken by Clean Water Services (CWS) in our watershed. Tualatin Riverkeepers will continue to monitor any ongoing risks to drinking water from PFAS, and we’ll continue to work with CWS to reduce the prevalence of PFAS (and PFOS) in the Tualatin River watershed.

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