U.S. limits ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water. What about Canada? – National

Canada should swiftly adopt enforceable limits on “forever chemicals” found in drinking water, experts say, as the United States imposed strict new regulations on these widely used, harmful substances.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized on Wednesday what it said were the first-ever national drinking water standards on per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).Sébastien Sauvé, a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Montreal, said the U.S. limits are a “major step” in regulating PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” in drinking water, adding that Canada should follow suit fast.“It certainly puts a lot of pressure to do something because some drinking water or some aqueduct are above the proposed guidelines and it makes for a weird situation where people have water that’s being distributed that would be above a recommended Health Canada guideline,” Sauvé told Global News in an interview. Story continues below advertisement

“So, we need to move ahead and solve that very quickly,” he said.It has been over a year since Health Canada released in February 2023 a draft objective, recommending a maximum level of 30 nanograms per litre for total PFAS in drinking water.Health Canada told Global News that a final version of the objective will be published this year that will guide provinces and territories on PFAS levels in drinking water.“Once the final objective is published later this year, it will replace current guidelines and remain in place until the reassessment of the PFAS guidelines is completed, and new guidelines are adopted,” said Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for Health Canada.“The provinces and territories use the guidelines and objectives as the basis for establishing drinking water quality requirements for all Canadians,” he said in an emailed response Thursday.

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Miriam Diamond, a University of Toronto professor of environmental chemistry, said just having guidelines in place is not enough; instead, Canada needs legally binding legislation to ensure that the country’s drinking water is safe. Story continues below advertisement

“Getting it out of drinking water means getting it out of the system more widely, including our food supply,” Diamond said in an interview with Global News.

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“I think it’s a government obligation to the people to make it enforceable because that requires drinking water facilities to be supplying water that is understood to be safe,” she said.There should also be mandated and time-limited expectations for testing and the release of data to the public so that people know how much PFAS is actually contaminating the water, Diamond added.According to Health Canada’s Johnson, current data on Canadian freshwater sources and drinking water suggests that PFAS levels are presently below the new proposed objective that was released last year.“However, the concentrations of PFAS in freshwater and drinking water may be higher near facilities that use large amounts of these chemicals, locations where firefighting foams containing PFAS were used to put out a fire, and landfills and wastewater treatment plants,” he said.

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A study co-authored by Sauvé published in August 2023 analyzed PFAS contamination in tap water from 376 different municipalities in Quebec and found that about five per cent of the water supply had elevated levels. Story continues below advertisement

Sauvé said some Canadian cities are carrying out their own monitoring programs, but there is no set regulation, like the U.S. now has, where different water authorities in the country have to report data.Under the U.S. rule, all public water systems have three years to complete their initial monitoring for “forever chemicals” after which they must inform the public of the PFAS levels detected.

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Health hazards of ‘forever chemicals’

For years, scientists have raised concerns about the use of PFAS, which are associated with several health hazards, in consumer products.PFAS are a group of thousands of long-lasting, human-made chemicals that are used in textiles, cosmetics, furniture, paints, firefighting foams, food packaging and other commonly used consumer products.According to Health Canada’s website, “people are exposed to PFAS from many different sources, including products available to consumers, food, drinking water, outdoor and indoor air, and house dust.” Story continues below advertisement

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Animal studies show that exposure to certain PFAS is associated with reproductive, developmental, endocrine, liver, kidney and immunological effects, the agency says.PFAS may affect a person’s fertility and metabolism, such as cholesterol and body weight.Diamond said research also suggests that PFAS can cause cancer in some situations.“There’s ample evidence to show that exposure to those PFAS that have been well studied, causes adverse health effects,” she said.To lower human exposure, the government of Canada has prohibited certain types of PFAS, such as PFOS, PFOA, long-chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (LC-PFCAs), their salts and precursors.Health Canada also proposed in May 2023 to designate the entire class of PFAS, which includes more than 4,700 substances, as toxic. Story continues below advertisement

That would then allow regulation of these chemicals, including an outright ban. A final report deciding whether to confirm the toxic designation is still pending.If Canadians are concerned about PFAS in drinking water, Health Canada recommends installing an activated carbon filter or a reverse osmosis system directly at the tap.— with files from The Canadian Press


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