How Concerned Should You Be About 'Forever Chemicals' In Drinking Water?

When you're thirsty and opt for a glass of water from the tap, you're probably not thinking about chemicals. You just want to quench your thirst and stay hydrated. But a certain class of chemicals often found in drinking water is causing concern for the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Associated Press, the EPA recently issued an advisory regarding the levels of two "forever chemicals" in drinking water. In 2016, the permissible levels of the chemicals in water was set to 70 parts per trillion. But the EPA now believes that level should be near zero.

So what are these "forever chemicals?" The compounds the EPA are concerned about are Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), which are part of a group of chemicals called Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances or PFAS, most often referred to as "forever chemicals." As the name suggests, the chemicals are slow to deteriorate and the levels can increase in people over time (via the EPA).

Use and effects of forever chemicals

PFAS have been used in consumer products since the 1940s, per the EPA. PFOA and PFOS are two of the most common, although they are now being replaced with other PFAS. Other than drinking water, the chemicals can be found in a lot of things, including in fish and livestock that have been exposed, in non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant carpet, and some cosmetics. As far as health goes, the chemicals are associated with an increased risk of some cancers, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a decrease in immunity levels, among other things.

So what is being done? In October, NBC News explained that the EPA released a three-year initiative to control the use of PFAS. Per the Associated Press, the EPA says that it plans to release new guidelines for the level of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water later this year. "People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long," EPA Administrator Michael Regan was quoted in the story. "That's why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge."