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Back in September of this year (2022), the World Health Organization (WHO) released a background document for developing updated guidelines for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water.

The guidelines focus on limits for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—toxic substances that may negatively affect human health when present at unsafe levels. Researchers examined data from major research agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when considering establishing health-based guidance values for the two PFAS.

The Green Science Policy Institute, however, says the suggested guidelines don’t go far enough. In a letter to the WHO dated November 10, 2022, a group of over 100 experts on toxic chemicals urged the WHO to significantly revise or withdraw the draft because of evidence “demonstrating strong links between PFOS and PFOA exposure and many adverse health outcomes…”

Increased Awareness of PFAS and Their Connection to Human Health Problems

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to the development of several different types of cancers, as well as liver damage, thyroid disease, and other health issues. People can be exposed to PFAS through drinking water, as well as through firefighting foams used by firefighters and military and airport personnel.

Several cities and military bases have found PFAS in their drinking water over the past several years. The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board, for instance, recently voted in favor of a proposal to establish limits on PFOA and PFAS, noting that while the EPA does set a federal health advisory level for PFAS, it is non-enforceable.

Back in 2016, the EPA’s advisory level was previously 70 parts per trillion (ppt). But on June 15, 2022, the EPA issued interim updated drinking water advisories for PFOA and PFOS. The updated levels, which are “based on new science and consider lifetime exposure,” are 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS.

These new levels reflect the EPA’s desire for levels of these chemicals to be as close to possible to zero.

WHO Urged to Re-evaluate Its Proposed Safe-Drinking Water Guidelines

The WHO recognizes the dangers of PFAS to human health and the environment, but according to the Green Science Policy Institute, the organization’s proposed guidelines “are much less protective” than they should be.

The Green Science Policy Institute argues that the proposed WHO guidelines are “derived using a seemingly arbitrary technology-based approach,” when a “scientifically defensible health-based approach” should have been used instead.

The WHO survey of scientific studies omitted or obscured strong evidence of the links between PFOS and PFOA and several adverse health outcomes, including cancer, liver damage, increased cholesterol levels, and immune system effects. The current science, the group adds, provides compelling evidence that exposure to these chemicals “have adverse impacts on human and animal health, even at very low levels.”

Lawsuits Concerning PFAS-Related Health Problems Filed Around the Country

Manufacturers of PFAS chemicals have been named in hundreds of firefighting foam lawsuits brought by plaintiffs claiming to be suffering from PFAS-related health issues. A growing number of PFAS water contamination lawsuits are also pending in courts around the country.

In all these cases, plaintiffs point to evidence that they were exposed to unsafe levels of PFAS, which they believe caused them to suffer from cancer and other serious health problems.

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