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posted by janrinok on Thursday March 16 2023, @09:10PM   Printer-friendly

If you can detect any, it's too much:

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had started the process that will see drinking water regulations place severe limits on the levels of several members of the PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemical family. PFAS are widely used but have been associated with a wide range of health issues; their chemical stability has also earned them the term "forever chemicals." The agency is currently soliciting public feedback on rules that will mean that any detectable levels of two chemicals will be too much.

PFAS are a large group of chemicals that have uses in a wide range of products, including non-stick cooking pans, fire control foams, and waterproof clothing. They're primarily useful because of their water-repellant, hydrophobic nature. That nature also tends to keep them from taking part in chemical processes that might otherwise degrade them, so contamination problems tend to stick around long after any PFAS use. And that's bad, given that they seem to have a lot of negative effects on health—the EPA lists cancer risks, immune dysfunction, hormone signaling alterations, liver damage, and reproductive issues.

[...] The most striking thing about the proposal is that two of the chemicals, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) will be set at the limits of our current ability to detect them: four parts per trillion. In other words, if there's any sign of the chemicals present, it would be above the legal limit. (Both of these are acidic hydrocarbons where all of the hydrogen has been replaced by fluorine.)

A second set of related chemicals (PFNA, PFHXs, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals) will be regulated as a collective. Each will have limits set on the levels allowable. The levels of each will be calculated as a percentage of that limit, and the percentages totalled; if they exceed 100 percent, then the regulations will kick in.

As part of its earlier efforts, the EPA has already been providing grants to help water utilities set up to test for these chemicals. It also says that a variety of means of extracting these chemicals from water are now available.


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Beryllium Sphere (r) on Thursday March 16 2023, @09:31PM (1 child)

    by Beryllium Sphere (r) (5062) on Thursday March 16 2023, @09:31PM (#1296563)

    I'd always heard that was the cliche among analytical chemists. At the parts per trillion level a wide range of surprising things will turn up.

    Now, if there's evidence that PFAs have bad effects at doses we can barely measure ...

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by krishnoid on Friday March 17 2023, @12:42AM

      by krishnoid (1156) on Friday March 17 2023, @12:42AM (#1296595)

      And you're also closing in on the order of magnitude of identifying something at the level of a few cells [youtu.be] in a human body. I mean, it's improperly numerically equating chemical concentrations to agents of action, but it does seem that you could start observing unusual things at the ppE12 level in biological systems as well.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Snotnose on Thursday March 16 2023, @10:20PM (7 children)

    by Snotnose (1623) on Thursday March 16 2023, @10:20PM (#1296575)

    If these things are so dangerous shouldn't we be looking to prevent them from being made in the first place?

    Than again, cynical me suspects waste water workers can contribute fewer campaign $$$ than corporate overlords. Not that our politicians can be bought, I would never suggest such a thing.

    --
    I hate it when I see an old person, then realize we went to high school together.
    • (Score: 2) by acid andy on Thursday March 16 2023, @10:55PM (3 children)

      by acid andy (1683) on Thursday March 16 2023, @10:55PM (#1296578) Homepage Journal

      1. Replace waste water workers with the latest AIs.
      2. The AIs conclude that the only effective way to meet the EPA limits indefinitely is to eliminate the corporate overlords.
      3. ???
      4. PROFIT!

      --
      If a cat has kittens, does a rat have rittens, a bat bittens and a mat mittens?
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 17 2023, @12:59AM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 17 2023, @12:59AM (#1296598)

        > 1. Replace waste water workers with the latest AIs.

        Not sure this can be done, I haven't seen any AIs with plumber's butt/bum.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday March 17 2023, @04:37AM (1 child)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday March 17 2023, @04:37AM (#1296631) Journal

          Not sure this can be done, I haven't seen any AIs with plumber's butt/bum.

          A plumber can manage only one butt at a time. A sophisticated AI could parallel more butts than there are people in the world and do it orders of magnitude faster too.

          • (Score: 4, Informative) by Freeman on Friday March 17 2023, @02:53PM

            by Freeman (732) on Friday March 17 2023, @02:53PM (#1296692) Journal

            Through the beauty of Stable Diffusion, they can give you an infinite number of plumber cracks.

            --
            Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
    • (Score: 1) by wArlOrd on Friday March 17 2023, @02:44PM

      by wArlOrd (2142) on Friday March 17 2023, @02:44PM (#1296691)

      Nor would I suggest that they could be bought so incredibly inexpensively;
      because the results aren't turning out to be cheap.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Sourcery42 on Friday March 17 2023, @04:40PM

      by Sourcery42 (6400) on Friday March 17 2023, @04:40PM (#1296702)

      You're absolutely right. Phasing out the chemicals is a good start. I think some uses, like firefighting foams, are still a research area.

      However, another problem with this family of chemicals is that the damage is already done. Landfill leachate is a big source of them now. I've seen results in the hundreds of ppt from deep aquifer production wells. If limits at the detection threshold come into force the cost of compliance is going to be huge.

    • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:22AM

      by krishnoid (1156) on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:22AM (#1296777)

      Sometimes the products they're in are very helpful [youtu.be]. Not sure if they're made with/out the chemicals in question, though.

  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday March 17 2023, @05:09AM (11 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday March 17 2023, @05:09AM (#1296634) Journal

    The most striking thing about the proposal is that two of the chemicals, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) will be set at the limits of our current ability to detect them: four parts per trillion.

    The "no safe level" fallacy rears its ugly head again. To put this into perspective, at a water intake of 4 liters per day (slightly above what the US government thinks an adult male drinks on average), and 4 parts per trillion, that's a dose of 16 nanograms per day. Blood hormone levels seem to be two or more orders of magnitude greater. There seems to be a chain of multiple unwarranted assumptions: that the human body is extremely sensitive to these chemicals and that they are highly concentrated in relevant tissues.

    What's missed with this silliness is that as a result, one gets extremely expensive water treatment and distribution systems. This is the absurd outcome of unchecked environmentalism. Eventually, it ends up at the threshold of detection.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 17 2023, @10:24PM (8 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 17 2023, @10:24PM (#1296763)

      What's missed with this silliness is that as a result, one gets extremely expensive water treatment and distribution systems. This is the absurd outcome of unchecked environmentalism. Eventually, it ends up at the threshold of detection.

      No, what "one" gets is that water treatment and distribution systems have been made economically non-viable by the polluter. The problem is not the desire to not be poisoned. The problem is the poisoner.
      The polluter does not have a ${DEITY}-given right to pollute without repercussions, and your post seems to "beg that question". Maybe they shouldn't pollute in the first place, then we wouldn't have this problem...

      How about we let that precious free market work, and have the polluter(s) bear the actual, real cost of producing what they produce. Maybe we should make that extremely expensive instead. Does that make _their_ operations economically unviable, maybe it should...

      Again: the problem is no-where near close to a desire to not be polluted, the problem is located squarely with the polluter.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:43AM (4 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:43AM (#1296782) Journal

        The problem is the poisoner.

        Dose makes the poisoner. I doubt threshold of detection is anywhere near a level of harm.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18 2023, @01:04PM (3 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18 2023, @01:04PM (#1296864)

          > Dose makes the poisoner.

          It certainly isn't the EPA giving you the dose.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday March 18 2023, @01:45PM (2 children)

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 18 2023, @01:45PM (#1296874) Journal

            It certainly isn't the EPA giving you the dose.

            Don't be so sure! With such tight regulations, it's common for regulators to avoid enforcement so that society can function. That allows the regulated industry to be worse than it would be under sensible regulation.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18 2023, @07:42PM (1 child)

              by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18 2023, @07:42PM (#1296932)

              So you agree that EPA should enforce this as aggressively as they can then? That this is none of that run-away uncontrolled environmentalism...?

              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday March 19 2023, @02:56AM

                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 19 2023, @02:56AM (#1296992) Journal

                So you agree that EPA should enforce this as aggressively as they can then?

                "As they can" can be very weak. Ideally, regulation should be fully enforced not "as you can". That's not the case now. Too many things just couldn't function IMHO if we did so. This is an example. My bet is that a water system can't comply with this regulation with such a low threshold.

                That means that it's likely that regulation will be selectively enforced (assuming it hasn't already happened!). Once that happens, then it's an opportunity to selectively enforce many other regulations as well. Once regulators get in the habit of overlooking PFAS in order to get a functioning water system, then they'll likely overlook other things as well. And some of these might cause real harm - like lead or pathogens.

                Regulation should attempt to reduce cost of compliance and not create situations where any activity is in violation of the regulation.

      • (Score: 2) by ChrisMaple on Saturday March 18 2023, @06:35AM (2 children)

        by ChrisMaple (6964) on Saturday March 18 2023, @06:35AM (#1296828)

        There are 2 problems with having producers pay for damage done in cases like this. One is that the damage can't really be proved for pollution levels slightly above the legally specified limit. The other is that juries are notoriously bad at judging actual damages, and tend to award payments several orders of magnitude too high.

        There bias evident in your post. "...the actual, real cost of producing what they produce. Maybe we should make that extremely expensive instead." Implied here is making penalties far in excess of damage, of making the cost much greater than the "real cost."

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18 2023, @01:09PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18 2023, @01:09PM (#1296866)

          W.r.t. the bias: the comment is aimed at the frequently held belief that if costs can be externalized, doing so is not immoral.
          Certain things just shouldn't be done, full stop. Society has no duty to give handouts to destructive entities.
          This is aimed against the strawman of "making us pay for X will put us out of business" to which I say: then maybe you shouldn't be in business.

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday March 19 2023, @03:04AM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 19 2023, @03:04AM (#1296995) Journal
            Regulation is itself an externality. When done well, it counters existing externalities to effectively eliminate them. When done poorly, we get stuff like this.

            Certain things just shouldn't be done, full stop. Society has no duty to give handouts to destructive entities.

            Extremely costly regulation is such a thing. Society has no duty to give you a handout when you think something should be overregulated.

            the comment is aimed at the frequently held belief that if costs can be externalized, doing so is not immoral.

            So what? Laws aren't for the purpose of punishing beliefs you don't like. We can completely eliminate the moral dimension altogether by eliminating the externality. The approach of eliminating the opportunity to do wrong is straight-forward and far more powerful than merely punishing people.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by krishnoid on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:14AM (1 child)

      by krishnoid (1156) on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:14AM (#1296776)

      Maybe not so much that they're highly concentrated, but that they bioaccumulate [epa.gov] over time. Drink a glass of water (or fish) [youtu.be] every day, and you've got a 1E2 multiplier in about a quarter. Also bear in mind that the threshold of detection becomes smaller over time as well.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:41AM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 18 2023, @12:41AM (#1296781) Journal
        Mercury != perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
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