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EPA sets first limits on PFAS in drinking water, drawing praise in Michigan

 Point of view shot of a man pouring a glass of fresh water from a kitchen faucet
(iStock photo by naumoid)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has set the first national standards limiting PFAS contamination in drinking water
  • Michigan’s standards have been in place since 2020
  • Supporters say the EPA’s move is a good start, but water utilities will need time to adjust to the standard 

The Environmental Protection Agency set the first-ever national standards limiting PFAS contaminants in drinking water on Wednesday. The move drew immediate praise from officials in Michigan, which was one of the first states to regulate the compounds.

The federal agency proposed standards over a year ago that would require water utilities to limit the two most common compounds, PFOA and PFOS, to less than four parts per trillion, which is the lowest amount modern technology can detect. The federal rules go beyond Michigan’s standards, which limit those compounds to eight and 16 parts per trillion, respectively. 

The EPA also set limits for three additional compounds and for mixtures of two or more of the five substances.


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer applauded the move in a social media post Wednesday, saying everyone deserves access to clean drinking water. She called the new EPA standards “a huge step towards protecting the environment and keeping our communities healthy.”

Tony Spaniola, co-chair of the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network, said the standards are “a sound, solid and important start.” 

“There's much, much, much more to be done. There are many more pieces that are in commerce and in the environment that we have to look at but we have to start someplace,” said Spaniola.

“As a community member, none of us are contaminated with just one simple PFAS,” said Sandy Wynn-Selt, co-chair of the organization. “We are all contaminated with a mixture and so I think starting to regulate these as a mixture or as a class is going to be the wave of the future and really is what is needed.” 

Michigan implemented its own PFAS standards in 2020 after the contaminants were found in state waterways.The state set limits on seven PFAS compounds in drinking water.

Michigan's PFAS limits remain under legal threat, however, so having federal rules in place could become critical. In 2023, an appeals court struck down the state restrictions after chemical giant 3M ​​sued, saying the process of developing the standards was “rushed and invalid.” They remain in effect as the state appeals the ruling.

‘A grave danger’

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally in the environment. PFAS compounds can be found in products like nonstick pans, fast food wrappers, waterproof boots and stain-proof couches. 

“Today’s first-ever drinking water standard is a testament to what we can accomplish when we stand united to take on special interests,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, (D-Flint) in a press statement. “ This standard acknowledges what we have known for years — PFAS chemicals pose a grave danger to the health of our communities. I applaud President Biden for taking action to protect our children and communities from these harmful chemicals.” 


The EPA has noted that no water is considered safe drinking water, the Associated Press reported. PFAs have contaminated waterways tremendously. They can be found in almost everyone’s bloodstream, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Our water is our identity. It's our natural heritage in Michigan. It's something that's just our bread and butter for our state,” said U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) during the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network’s virtual briefing.  “After an apocalyptic poisoning of an American city, every single Michigander started getting interested in what else might be in their water. Because of that, we set a standard for ourselves in Michigan in 2020,” she said. 

On the other hand, water utility companies are concerned that they will have to bear the costs of regulating PFAS contamination.

“There are concerns that this is going to increase utility costs,” Bonnifer Ballard executive director of the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association told Bridge Michigan. “There is deep concern that this is going to create sort of an unfunded mandate. There's also the challenge here in Michigan of marrying the state rule with the federal rule.”

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