President Joe Biden’s administration announced the first-ever national limits on toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water. This plan will require utilities serving roughly one in three Americans to remove the contaminants from their water.

This represents the most significant upgrade in drinking water safety across the country in three decades, fulfilling one of Biden’s public health promises. However, the achievement comes with a cost of $1.5 billion annually, which ratepayers will fund.

Under the regulation, utilities will have five years to eradicate any detectable levels of PFOA or PFOS chemicals. Both have been used for decades in products like nonstick cookware, camping gear and pizza boxes. The chemicals have been linked with cancer and other health problems. Levels of four other chemicals in the PFAS family will also be limited.

“This action will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told Politico. 

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The upgrade is a win for advocates from communities known for contaminated drinking water.

“This is huge, it’s monumental, it’s historic,” said Emily Donovan, a mother of twins and advocate from Wilmington, North Carolina, whose community faced extreme levels of PFAS contamination from a Chemours plant that posited chemicals directly into the Cape Fear River, which supplies her city’s water. “Today’s announcement’s not going to erase the past, but it’s going to give us a more fair and just future.”

EPA estimates the chemicals have made their way to the drinking water of more than 100 million Americans. The possibility of contamination is heightened for those living near manufacturing facilities and military bases.

Trade groups representing drinking water utilities and some mayors have argued against the regulation because of its high costs. In turn, the Biden administration announced the availability of $1 billion from a $9 billion pot of funding for PFAS and other contaminates in the bipartisan infrastructure law.

States will distribute the $1 billion, which could go to regulated water utilities or private well owners who are not covered under the new rule but still face chemical issues.

Most U.S. utilities will receive funding from settlement agreements with major chemical manufacturers. The Biden administration is also preparing to finalize a separate regulation listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, which would become a powerful legal tool for forced cleanups at contaminated sites.

Chemical companies have already challenged the regulations, and the American Chemistry Council has expressed concerns about cost and denied the science behind the initiatives.

The council said, “This rushed, unscientific approach is unacceptable when it comes to an issue as important as access to safe drinking water.”

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