Read the full article by Sylvia Carigan, Keshina Clukey, Emily C. Dooley & Alex Ebert (Bloomberg Law)

“More states are stepping up to protect people from drinking water contaminated with “forever chemicals” in the absence of federal enforcement.

Twenty-three states are writing their own guidance, regulations, or legislation that would address drinking water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

The family of thousands of chemicals, once used in Teflon and Scotchgard, may cause liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid problems and increased cholesterol levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The substances require massive amounts of energy to fully break down, enabling them to persist in the environment, seemingly “forever.”

Since early 2019, the EPA has been considering whether to set drinking water limits for PFAS, as part of an action plan that also includes new drinking water detection methods. The chemicals can enter the environment through the use of firefighting foam, companies’ waste products, and consumer goods.

‘Aggressively addressing PFAS will continue to be an EPA priority in 2020,’ an EPA spokesperson said in an email.

In the meantime, states that have opted to act are deciding how much PFAS is safe to drink, and what should be done about contaminated water sources. Most states have focused on two of the better-understood chemicals in the PFAS family—PFOA and PFOS—while others are assessing the safety of five or more.

Michigan is one of the most active states in the country on the issue. It completed the first statewide test of drinking water sources and embarked on cleanup at 76 contaminated sites. The state is working on creating enforceable limits for seven PFAS in drinking water, and is now taking public input on a draft rule.

The state has also gone after 3M Co., Dupont, and other companies for millions of dollars for cleanup and damages for contaminating state drinking water. 3M and DuPont were the original companies developing and producing PFAS, dating to the 1940s. Michigan’s citizens have been at a heightened sensitivity to water contamination following the Flint water crisis.

Some states that haven’t set their own standards, such as Arizona and Florida, are following the EPA’s health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS. The EPA advised people not to drink water that has a concentration of combined PFOA and PFOS above 70 parts per trillion, but hasn’t made those limits mandatory.

Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Oklahoma also have laws that prevent them from setting a drinking water guideline that is more stringent than federal standards, according to the Environmental Council of States. Many states lack the resources to effectively regulate individual PFAS, the council found.

But several states have opted to set stricter, and enforceable, limits.

New York

‘In the absence of federal leadership, and to protect our communities, New York state is in the final stages of adopting among the most stringent water safety standards in the nation for the emerging contaminants PFOS and PFOA,’ said New York State Department of Health spokeswoman Erin Silk.

New York planned to set a cap of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, according to a proposal from December 2018, but progress has been slow due to multiple rule revisions. The state plans to release the amended proposal in April, according to Silk.