Progress toward a future safe from PFAS “forever chemicals”

Dangerous PFAS chemicals are common in drinking water and household items – but these recent victories are making a safer future possible.

boy drinking glass of water
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It’s a toxic hazard hidden in plain sight: PFAS “forever chemicals” – so nicknamed because of the way they stick around in our bodies and our environment – are common in drinking water and hidden in unassuming places like cookware and clothes.

Because they’re so widely used, avoiding these chemicals and their dangerous health impacts is challenging. But thanks in part to years of advocacy from PIRG supporters, that could be about to change. 

Here’s why protecting your health and your family from PFAS chemicals is going to be a lot easier:

The EPA is restricting toxic PFAS in drinking water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just set limits on six forever chemicals present in tap water across the country in a move that will help make drinking water safer for millions of Americans.

The EPA’s new rule requires utilities to reduce six specific PFAS substances to very low levels in drinking water. It also means that utilities will need to inform the public about drinking water contaminated with these chemicals, empowering affected people to protect themselves.

According to the EPA, banning six common PFAS “will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.” This is a great first step towards making our water safer – but there are many other types of PFAS chemical that have yet to be regulated.

A new rule will aid in PFAS clean-ups

When industries use PFAS in production, it can be discharged into our waterways and water treatment plants. When we wash our clothes, cook with PFAS-laden pans or put plastic containers in the dishwasher, PFAS can get rinsed down the drain and contaminate soil and drinking water, as well as build up in the bodies of fish and wildlife.

And PFAS have already been found in our waterways — including rivers and lakes — as well as in animals on land and in water.

When PFAS contaminates our environment, cleanup can be difficult and costly. That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently listed two PFAS chemicals under Superfund – meaning the agency now has the power to make polluters pay for the costs of clean-ups involving these chemicals.

PFAS contaminate 180 Superfund sites. This announcement is a critical step toward cleaning those sites up, getting PFAS out of our waterways and making polluters pay.

Why is phasing out PFAS important to protecting our health?

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, aren’t just one singular chemical. They are a class of 15,000 synthetic chemicals used to make products waterproof as well as heat- or stain-resistant.

They might not sound like a big deal, but PFAS are widely used in consumer products and they don’t break down in the environment. And that’s exactly how they build up in our water supply — and elsewhere, including our bodies.

The EPA says PFAS exposure, even in small amounts, is linked to serious health problems over time, including cancer, thyroid disruption and reduced vaccine response.

Because there are literally thousands of types of PFAS chemicals in our environment, determining how each one affects the body isn’t easy.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found that some PFAS “altered metabolism and body weight regulation,” put children at an increased risk for obesity, increased the risk of some cancers, and reduced the ability of the immune system to ward off illnesses.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says evidence suggests increased exposure to some PFAS had associations with increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver function, decreased infant birth weight, pregnancy-induced hypertension, as well as kidney and testicular cancer.

While the scope of these correlations is still being studied, one thing is clear: PFAS are harmful to humans and the planet.

We’re working on even more campaigns to protect people from PFAS – and you can help.

We’re working to convince state and national leaders to pass laws phasing out PFAS completely to protect public health from these lifelong, toxic chemicals. PIRG and our national network are taking action across the country to get forever chemicals out of as many products as possible.

  • Fourteen states have passed laws to ban or restrict PFAS in food packaging, cosmetics or firefighting foams.
  • McDonald’s has agreed to phase out PFAS-treated food wrappers and boxes in its restaurants.
  • And REI recently agreed to eliminate PFAS in its outdoor gear by 2026.

We’re also working to hold the chemical industry responsible for the harm it’s caused to our health and environment, and require it to clean up the mess it’s made. And we’re calling on more corporations to take proactive measures to remove PFAS from their products. 

Together, we’re making big progress toward a future safe from these toxic “forever chemicals.”