Your Drinking Water May Have These "Shockingly Toxic" Chemicals, EPA Now Warns

The agency is making new recommendations to protect the health of Americans.

In many parts of the world, there's a sense of comfort in knowing the water you're drinking is likely safe. Of course, sometimes there are dangers due to various factors like potential contamination—but those usually come with urgent community advisories, warning residents to boil their water before consuming it. Now, all Americans need to be aware of a major new alert from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Read on to find out why the agency says your drinking water might have "shockingly toxic" chemicals in it.

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Experts have previously warned against drinking water from certain sources.

Water fountain closeup

Advisories about the water you drink are not new. In 2019, a study published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases revealed that water fountains in many gyms are contaminated with at least two dangerous types of bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

More recently, in March 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned Americans against drinking or cooking with Real Water bottled alkaline water. This warning came after the agency found five cases of non-viral hepatitis—which resulted in acute liver failure—in a handful of infants and young children in Nevada who had all consumed it.

Officials have a new warning about the safety of our water supply.

senior man drinking water from a glass

Now the EPA is speaking out about dangerous chemicals in the water many Americans drink. According to the Associated Press (AP), the agency said the presence of two nonstick and strain-resistant compounds in drinking water, known as PFOA and PFOS, may be more dangerous than previously thought—even at extremely low levels. The agency said that while many manufacturers have voluntarily phased out these toxins, they are part of a larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) still impacting consumers.

PFAs are referred to as "forever chemicals" because they do not degrade over time, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "They build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment," the organization explains. "Very small doses of PFAS have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases." At least 200 million people in the U.S. are drinking water that is contaminated with PFAS, according to the EWG.

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Officials are setting new regulations for safe levels of these chemicals.

person pouring ice water into glass

During a recent national PFAS Conference in Wilmington, North Carolina, Radhika Fox, assistant administrator at the EPA's Office of Water, announced that the agency is issuing new non-binding advisories for safe levels of PFOA and PFOS, the AP reported. According to the news outlet, the EPA is now setting the health risk threshold of these toxins at nearly zero—replacing 2016 guidelines that put the threshold at 70 parts per trillion.

These revised guidelines follow new science and take into account people's lifetime exposure to PFAs. An EPA spokesman told the AP that officials are no longer confident that the levels allowed under the 2016 guidelines "do not have adverse health impacts."

The agency is expected to reveal their official recommendation for national drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS later this year, with regulations likely to be finalized in 2023.

The new advisory is stirring up controversy.

Pure water in glass and water filters on the blurred background. Household filtration system.

Many environmental and public health groups are praising the EPA for their decision. According to the AP, these groups have long been urging U.S. officials to take action on the regulation of PFAS, after thousands of communities detected toxins in their water.

"The science is clear: These chemicals are shockingly toxic at extremely low doses," Erik Olsen, senior strategic director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the AP. Stel Bailey, co-facilitator of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, added: "EPA had the courage to follow the science. This is a step in the right direction."

But not everyone is happy with the new advisories. The American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical companies, told the AP that the agency's announcement "reflects a failure of the agency to follow its accepted practice for ensuring the scientific integrity of its process." Even though the current advisories are not enforceable by law, "they will have sweeping implications for policies at the state and federal levels," the group said. "These new levels cannot be achieved with existing treatment technology and, in fact, are below levels that can be reliably detected using existing EPA methods."

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