The European Food Safety Administration (EFSA) released new limits for the most common types of PFAS—PFOS and PFOA—at much lower levels than we find in the United States. “These new EFSA limits illustrate that the EPA recommended guidelines are out of date and the agency needs to update them in order to protect human health,” notes STEEP co-director Philippe Grandjean.
In the U.S., two different agencies are involved with recommending limits for PFOS and PFOA. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advises the EPA on human health impacts of these two chemicals, but only EPA has the regulatory authority to set guidance levels and limits. The drinking water health advisory for PFOS and PFOA combined is 70 ng/L.
The EFSA set the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake levels at 13 ng/kg for PFOS and 6 ng/kg for PFOA. Their limit for PFOS is similar to ATSDR’s recommended limit of 2 ng/kg per day (note that the EFSA limit is per week), but is more than 10-fold below the EPA guidelines. PFOA is a major water contaminant in the U.S., and the EFSA limit is more than 3-fold lower that ATSDR’s recommended 3 ng/kg per day and more than 20-fold below the EPA guideline.
In addition, the EPA’s drinking water guidance is not an enforeceable regulation and, therefore, there is no obligation to follow the guidelines. The EPA should consider following Europe’s lead by lowering the standards and making them legally binding, especially given the EFSA’s acknowledgement that further documentation is needed and that these new limits may not be fully protective.