The EPA Placed New Limits on the Amount of "Forever Chemicals" People Can Safely Consume in Drinking Water

To combat any health risks, the agency recommends filtering your water.

man filling water glass
Photo: Getty / Yevhenii Podshyvalov

Consider filtering the water from your faucet before you drink it, since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new limits this week on the amount of chemicals found in tap water that people can safely drink across the United States. These chemicals are called PFAS, which is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are mainly used by manufacturers to make food wrappers, sunscreen, nonstick cookware, makeup, smartphones, and flame-resistant equipment.

PFAS are made to ward off heat, water, grease, and stains. However, since the components of these chemicals are durable, they can build up within the body and in the environment, leading to water contamination. The strength and longevity of the particles has led to their nickname, "forever chemicals."

While most major chemical manufacturers have stopped producing PFOS and PFOA, which are two types of PFAS, over the last 10 years, the EPA mentioned that a "limited number of ongoing uses" are still present. Plus, the chemicals that have been created before the last decade still exist in the environment because of their resilience. The EPA notes that they are more harmful to the body than previously thought, since they don't break down after being ingested.

In 2016, the agency cut the amount of PFOS and PFOA people should drink to 70 parts per trillion. As of now, the EPA has decreased the limits to 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS and 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA. The new limits are so low, they are beyond the threshold of the EPA's testing and detection capabilities—which is why, to combat any health risks, the agency recommends installing a water filter or drinking from other water sources.

The health issues that are tied to consuming PFAs include cancer and weakened immune systems. To learn about evaluating your own home's water supply, turn to the EPA's testing fact sheet for more information.

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