EPA Announces Lower Health Advisory Levels for Drinking Water for PFOA, GenX, PFAS, and other Forever Chemicals

Brian Oram, Licensed Professional Geologist
Featured Water Professional

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces the release of health advisories for four perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including interim updated lifetime drinking water health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and final health advisories for hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt (together referred to as “GenX chemicals”) and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its related compound potassium perfluorobutane sulfonate (together referred to as “PFBS”). View PDF

“EPA is declaring that there is the potential health risk of any detection of these chemicals in drinking water; likely affecting hundreds, if not thousands, of drinking water systems nationwide.”

EPA’s health advisories, which identify the concentration of chemicals in drinking water at or below which adverse health effects are not anticipated to occur, are: 

PFOA: 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt)
PFOS: 0.02 ppt,
GenX: 10 ppt,
PFBS: 2,000 ppt

Health advisories are non-regulatory and reflect EPA’s assessment of the best available peer-reviewed science. The interim updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS supersede EPA’s 2016 health advisories for PFOA and PFOS. It may be wise to read the PFAS Strategic Roadmap (2021 – 2024) View PDF

Problem: The revised HALs for some PFAS compounds are below the actual detection levels and 1000x lower than the previous guidance.

What are Drinking Water Health Advisories?

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA may publish health advisories for contaminants that are not subject to any national primary drinking water regulations. 42 U.S.C. 300g- 1(b)(1)(F)). Health advisories serve as technical information to assist Federal, state, and local officials, as well as managers of public or community water systems in protecting public health. They are not regulations and should not be construed as legally enforceable Federal standards. Health advisories may change as new information becomes available.

Fact Sheet for Communities PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS

Fact Sheet for Public Water Systems PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS

What are EPA’s Interim Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS?

EPA is releasing interim updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS based on data and draft analyses that indicate that the levels at which negative health effects could occur are much lower than previously understood when the agency issued its 2016 health advisories for PFOA and PFOS (70 parts per trillion or ppt). Human studies have found associations between PFOA and/or PFOS exposure and effects on the immune system, the cardiovascular system, development (e.g., decreased birth weight), and cancer. EPA is concerned about the public health implications of these preliminary findings and is therefore issuing interim updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS. The interim updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS are 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, respectively. The interim updated health advisories replace the 2016 final health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, which were both set at 70 ppt.

What are EPA’s Final Health Advisories for GenX Chemicals and PFBS?

EPA is also releasing final health advisories for GenX chemicals and PFBS for the first time, based on EPA’s 2021 final toxicity assessments for these PFAS. In chemical and product manufacturing, GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and PFBS is a replacement for PFOS. Animal toxicity studies following oral exposure to GenX chemicals have reported health effects on the liver, kidney, immune system, development, and cancer. For PFBS, animal studies have reported health effects on the thyroid, reproductive system, development, and kidney following oral exposure. The final health advisories for GenX chemicals and PFBS are 10 ppt and 2,000 ppt, respectively.

Get Tested

ResinTech is a global leader in ion exchange for water purification, helping distributors and operators worldwide improve their water quality. Through ResinTech, the KnowYourH2O team facilitates and offers PFAS / GenX/ PFOA testing services and professional services related to evaluating your source water.
Visit our ResinTech partner page.

Get Treatment

The most common treatment options are granular activated carbon (GAC) and anion exchange (AIX), and reverse osmosis is likely to find greater relevance for utilities and homeowners that need to remove PFAS to non-detect levels.

Crystal Quest offers activated carbon and reverse osmosis systems.
Visit our Crystal Quest partner page.

More Resources

EPA Announces New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS Chemicals, $1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding to Strengthen Health Protections (June 15, 2022)

States Move to Ban the Use of PFAS in Food Packaging

“These laws follow previously enacted bans on PFAS in food packaging in Connecticut, Maine, New York, Vermont, and Washington state, and have since been followed by California’s AB 1200, which bans the use of PFAS in food packaging composed in a substantial part of paper, paperboard, or other materials derived from plant fibers“ (November 16, 2021)

California, New York, Maine, Vermont, Washington, Connecticut, and Minnesota have all committed to a ban on PFAS in food packaging