Perspectives on Water Equity

Read articles, posts, and views from Catalyst staff, Board, and partners about water and water equity in Virginia.

Historic Update to Drinking Water Regulations to Protect Our Health

Sarah Bedard Holland, CEO of Virginia Health Catalyst
Luciano H. Ramos, Chair of the Board of Directors

Drinking water is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to maintain and promote health. Our bodies need water to function effectively, and fluoridated water, in particular, prevents dental cavities. People rely on water every day - it’s a vital resource. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to regulate the amount of six PFAS compounds in drinking water. These PFAS compounds – short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances and commonly called “forever chemicals” – are harmful to human health. When ingested, they are linked to cancer, liver problems, and other serious health problems. The EPA’s proposal, if finalized, would be a historic step toward ensuring safer drinking water for all Americans.

We’ve seen increased media attention on PFAS, typically when they are found in local drinking water. Water gets this media attention because, by law, it is regularly tested for potentially harmful chemicals, unlike many of the other things we eat, drink, and breathe. Importantly, PFAS originates from and is found in many consumer products. While the emphasis and conversation focus almost solely on PFAS in drinking water, that is only a small part of the big picture. As states prepare to meet these proposed new standards, the most impactful way to reduce PFAS exposure is to consider what products you buy and use.

  • Buy products from companies who have committed to removing PFAS from their manufacturing. Be aware. Many companies are working to remove PFAS from their products; however, until the removal is complete, products including nonstick cookware (e.g., Teflon™), stain repellents (e.g., Scotchgard™), and waterproofing (e.g., GORE-TEX™) may have PFAS. PFAS may also be found in nail polish, facial moisturizers, eye makeup, microwavable popcorn bags, and more.
  • Avoid nonstick cookware that has PFAS. Instead, consider using stainless steel or cast-iron pots and pans. When the coating on existing nonstick cookware shows signs of wear and tear, replace them with stainless steel or cast-iron cookware.
  • At this time, EPA is not recommending bottled water for communities based solely on concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water that exceed the health advisory levels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not established standards for PFAS in bottled water at this time.

Virginia Health Catalyst staff and leadership applaud this historic step to improve health by protecting drinking water and acknowledge much work needs to be done. These regulations offer an opportunity to enhance communication and transparency. Historically, changes like this can cause worry and decrease trust in tap water. As experts in Virginia and nationally work to remove PFAS from water, proactive, clear communication about risks, actions, and community input will be critical to ensure a smooth rollout.

Additionally, the EPA must provide states, water utilities, and the communities they serve sufficient resources to identify, report and treat water according to these requirements. The EPA should prioritize communities that have been historically disinvested in and work with other federal agencies to identify ways to remove PFAS from consumer products.

You can contact your water utility if you have any concerns about your drinking water. Join Virginia’s Water Equity Taskforce to receive updates about PFAS and other water-related topics.

We Must Prioritize Drinking Water Equity in Virginia

In Virginia, water is enshrined as a human right, yet despite legislation declaring it so, the guarantee of safe, affordable drinking water for everyone in the commonwealth is elusive.