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WI, other states prepare for new PFAS drinking water rule

Glass of water

Efforts to limit human exposure to so-called forever chemicals continue to unfold in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, advocates are hopeful residents will be protected by a new national drinking water standard.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a final rule which, for the first time, sets a legally enforceable drinking water benchmark for PFAS chemicals all states will have to follow. Scientists have been highlighting health risks with more detection of PFAS in everyday products and water sources.

Lynn Thorp, national campaigns director for Clean Water Action, said they welcome the move, but stressed it also serves as a wake-up call to chemical manufacturers.

"If we have to take this action and restrict them in drinking water, then we need to take equally aggressive action to keep the chemicals from getting into the water and the environment in the first place," Thorp contended.

There is some concern from operators of public water systems, who are fretting about costs to update facilities. However, officials noted there is federal funding to help with the transition. Last year, Wisconsin adopted its own PFAS standards for drinking water, but the new federal rule is tougher, and state officials say they are taking steps to adopt them.

Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-led Legislature have been at odds over how to handle state funding to address PFAS. Meanwhile, some advocates feel the new federal standard is long overdue.

Thorp stressed given the heightened awareness over the past couple of years, the latest action shows policymakers are taking it seriously.

"I will say that the process has moved relatively rapidly, and I think that's a reflection of the seriousness of the problem," Thorp emphasized.

Under the new rule, the EPA estimated between 6% and 10% of 66,000 public drinking-water systems around the U.S. may have to take action to reduce PFAS. All of them have three years to complete initial monitoring. If levels exceed the new standards, the systems must take corrective action within five years.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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