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As feds crack down on PFAS forever chemicals, testing in CT set to skyrocket

A geologist collects collects samples of treated Lake Michigan water in a laboratory at a water treatment plant in Illinois in 2021.
Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune
Tribune News Service
A geologist collects collects samples of treated Lake Michigan water in a laboratory at a water treatment plant in Illinois in 2021.

Drinking water standards for six so-called “forever chemicals” are set to get stricter under a new rule proposed by the Biden Administration.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl (pronounced “PAUL-ee-floor-oh-AL-kill”) substances, also called “PFAS,” are good at repelling water. Because of that, they’re found in everything from carpets, to clothing, to cookware.

But they’re also extremely persistent in the environment and bad for health. Over years, PFAS can accumulate in the human body leading to serious health problems, including cancer.

Connecticut has put in place voluntary drinking water limits for PFAS.

But the new federal rule announced by the Biden Administration in March would require public water systems to test for PFAS and make results public. The new regulations would also require water suppliers to reduce levels if they exceed the new limits.

“This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan, in a statement.

State officials said they are also focusing on the problem.

“These types of chemicals … are in so many different places in our society,” said Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health. “We’re really trying to reduce the long-term potential impact that they can have.”

Speaking on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, the state’s top health official said about half of state residents live in areas where water suppliers are already testing for the chemicals.

“If this EPA rule now goes into effect,” Juthani said, “everybody would be required to test and report on those levels.”

The regulations would not apply to private wells. But Juthani said the vast majority of state consumers “are on regulated public water systems that would be affected” by the new proposal.

Juthani said the policy, if enacted, would “take some time to roll out.” But as the Connecticut Mirror has noted, costs for PFAS testing and the installation of filtration systems remain a concern.

Last week, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced the state will receive $73.5 million from the federal government to remove PFAS, lead and other hazardous contaminants from drinking water supplies.

Juthani said public comment on the EPA’s PFAS proposal closes at the end of May.

Connecticut Public's Katie Pellico and Catherine Shen contributed to this report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.