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posted by janrinok on Thursday March 16, @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 (Both of these are acidic hydrocarbons where all of the hydrogen has been replaced by fluorine.)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 Anonymous Coward on Friday March 17, @10:24PM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 17, @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.

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

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 18, @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, @01:04PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18, @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, @01:45PM (2 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 18, @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, @07:42PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18, @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, @02:56AM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 19, @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, @06:35AM (2 children)

    by ChrisMaple (6964) on Saturday March 18, @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, @01:09PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 18, @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, @03:04AM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 19, @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.