HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new guidance on PFAS chemicals in drinking water, significantly lowering its lifetime health advisory from the levels announced in 2016.

The chemicals, made by companies like 3M in Decatur for decades, are used in a wide array of consumer products, like Teflon and water repellent clothing.

PFAS chemical contamination of the Tennessee River has been the subject of long-running litigation in North Alabama, a significant announcement by EPA.

These are considered recommendations, not regulations, so not enforceable by law. The EPA says that continued health studies suggest its prior guidance of 70 parts per trillion for PFAS chemicals is too high for lifetime exposure. It has been lowered to .02 parts per trillion, and .004 parts per trillion for PFAS chemicals.

The EPA has said it expects to propose formal regulations later in 2022 and new rules in 2023.

David Whiteside, a founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper, a group that sued 3M over PFAS contamination, said the new guidelines will affect cleanup efforts.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Director Lance LeFleur said, “ADEM, along with the Alabama Department of Public Health, has been coordinating with water systems in Alabama that had measurable levels of PFAS to provide any assistance they may need. While the advisories are for a lifetime of exposure, ADEM is working with the drinking water systems to resolve the PFAS issues in the near term future.”

The full statement LeFleur made is below.

“This is a national issue. There rightly is concern about any harms these chemicals can have on human health and the environment. ADEM has been addressing PFAS issues for a number of years, including requiring testing for PFAS at drinking water systems with wells/treatment plants even though there is not a federal requirement to do so. We are pleased to see EPA now take steps that will lead to the regulation of these emerging contaminates.

Based on these advisories, affected water systems will take action to reduce the level of PFAS in the drinking water and provide information to their users, especially for those who may have conditions that make them more sensitive to PFAS exposure. ADEM, along with the Alabama Department of Public Health, has been coordinating with water systems in Alabama that had measurable levels of PFAS to provide any assistance they may need. While the advisories are for a lifetime of exposure, ADEM is working with the drinking water systems to resolve the PFAS issues in the near term future.

ADEM Director Lance LeFleur

ADEM is supervising a PFAS cleanup consent order with 3M. The agency has also been monitoring PFAS chemical levels in Alabama water systems. The EPA has asked states to apply for grant funds by August and ADEM will apply, a spokesperson told News 19.

The new health advisory levels were calculated to offer a margin of protection against adverse health effects.

News 19 reached out to 3M about the new guidelines. A spokesperson responded with the following:

3M has and continues to support science-based federal regulation of PFAS. We note that EPA’s action has been met with pushback from affected parties who have questioned the scientific basis for the action. We also have questions relating to the scientific basis for the action and look forward to contributing to the ongoing scientific debate. We want to work collaboratively with EPA and other interested stakeholders to find a science-based path forward to achieve our shared goal of protecting public health.

We do not use HFPO-DA (what we understand may be part of the product GenX) or PFBS at our facility. PBSF, a precursor material to PFBS, is present in certain manufacturing processes. We manage this material with required oversight and approval from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

3M spokesperson, Sean Lynch

Decatur Utilities also made a statement regarding health advisory levels and what future regulations could mean for the utility:

“We will be evaluating the new advisory levels, ongoing test results, and any steps that will need to be taken to come into compliance once EPA sets Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFOA and PFOS under upcoming National Primary Drinking Water regulations…At that time, we will explore grants and other funding options to minimize the impact these regulations could have on customer rates.”

Decatur Utilities General Manager, Ray Hardin