Proposed Water Regulations May Not Help The People They Are Supposed To
by Ike Brannon
Gazette Introductory Note: Before you read this article, let me explain what it is about. The EPA has spent several years trying to decide how much of the “forever chemicals” grouped under the name PFAS can be allowed in US drinking water. This is hard to figure out, especially since they have to find a number that can be more or less acceptable to the interested parties: consumer advocates, environmentalists, public health officials, water utilities, the manufacturers of the offending substance and other business interests that profit from its use, plus loud and often obnoxious elected and unelected officials and lobbyists who represent and take donations from all of the above. Although the EPA will try to rely on science in setting its allowable, the number finally chosen will be a negotiated compromise.
The four parts per trillion PFAS allowable recently announced by the EPA is unlikely to be final. Manufacturers and public water suppliers, who will be pressed to pay for cleanup or face litigation, prefer a higher number. The higher the better. The article below is from Forbes magazine and cites evidence from the Wall Street Journal. This may give a hint about the the concern over the EPA’s low allowable figure. It really isn’t your water bill that Forbes is concerned about. It is the “existential threat to the companies responsible for these chemicals” and “the enormous impact that the EPA’s actions have on businesses.” Not even mentioned are your daughter’s miscarriage or your aunt’s liver cancer. Nor do they bring up the billions upon billions of dollars that 3M and other companies have taken in during the seven decades that they sold these products while knowing that they had devastating public health consequences.–Gene Franks.
Late last year the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new set of rules that would designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – as hazardous substances, and other regulations that would reduce the allowable level of these substances in the drinking water to just four parts per trillion.
These stringent limits—which go beyond the UN recommendations of twelve parts per trillion as well as those of any other country and approach or exceed what state-of-the-art technology can currently detect—would dramatically increase costs for water treatment facilities, requiring most of them to make new investments in equipment both to detect and remove the substances. The lower threshold would provide a new impetus for future lawsuits.
However, the EPA’s rules could result in unintended consequences and would not necessarily result in a better outcome. For instance, people living in communities both with and without the chemical in their water supply at detectable limits will find themselves paying much higher water bills for the more stringent testing as well as the removal of the chemicals from the water.
While some may argue that we should not let cost deter us from removing potential health costs, it has not yet been established that the EPA threshold is, in fact, the appropriate threshold to establish safe drinking water. If the higher U.N. standard or the even higher standards in place in Europe are sufficiently safe, then the additional costs to get our standard below theirs will have bought us little or no additional protection.
These artificially lower levels will also leave many companies exposed to lawsuits seeking compensation for potential damages from these pollutants. Given that many of these companies have already faced lawsuits that have resulted in them having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars, establishing even lower limits would doubtless subject them to further litigation from community groups, local governments, and class-action lawsuits instigated by tort lawyers seeking a higher payday.
These lawsuits have already begun: The Wall Street Journal reports that over 300 utilities are seeking to recover the cost of filtering the chemicals out of their water, and that the lawsuits seeking damages represent an “existential threat” to the companies responsible for these chemicals, much of which entered the water table via their use in producing a foam used to put out fires.
There are now rumblings of a potential $10 billion settlement between 3M and municipal providers of consumer drinking water. This litigation and potential settlement illustrates the enormous impact that the EPA’s actions have on businesses.
Article Source: Forbes