health advisory

Science Guides Public Health Protection for Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

As a country, we’ve come a long way toward providing clean air, water, and land – essential resources that support healthy, productive lives. But we have more work to do to make sure that every American has access to safe drinking water.

That’s why EPA launched a concerted engagement effort with key partners and stakeholders – including state, tribal and local governments, drinking water utilities, and public health, environmental and community stakeholders – to develop and implement a national action plan to address critical drinking water challenges and opportunities.

As always, our work to protect public health and the environment must consistently be built on a foundation of sound science and data. When it comes to drinking water, scientific information helps us identify pollutants of concern – including new or emerging contaminants – assess potential health impacts, and understand the steps needed to address them.

Today, based on the latest science on two chemical contaminants called PFOA and PFOS, EPA released drinking water health advisories to provide the most up-to-date information on the health risks of these chemicals. These advisories will help local water systems and state, tribal and local officials take the appropriate steps to address PFOA and PFOS if needed.

For many years, PFOA and PFOS were widely used in carpets, clothing, furniture fabrics, food packaging, and other materials to make them more resistant to water, grease, and stains. PFOA and PFOS were also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.  Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer. And EPA asked eight major companies to commit to eliminate their production and use of PFOA by the end of 2015 and they have indicated that they have met their commitments. While there are some limited ongoing uses of these chemicals, in recent years, blood testing data has shown that exposures are declining across the country.

For most people, their source of exposure to PFOA and PFOS has come through food and consumer products. But drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in the small percentage of communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies.  This is typically a localized issue associated with a specific facility – for example, in communities where a manufacturing plant or airfield made or used these chemicals.

EPA’s assessment indicates that drinking water with individual or combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS below 70 parts per trillion is not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure.  These levels reflect a margin of protection, including for the most sensitive populations.

If these chemicals are found in drinking water systems above these levels, system operators should quickly conduct additional sampling to assess the level, scope, and source of contamination.  They should also promptly notify consumers and consult with their state drinking water agency to discuss appropriate next steps. Public notification is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because of the impact these chemicals can have on the development of fetuses and breastfed or formula-fed infants. There are a number of options available to water systems to lower concentrations of these chemicals in the drinking water supply.

EPA will continue sharing the latest science and information so that state and local officials can make informed decisions and take actions to protect public health.  This is an important part of our broader effort to support states and public water systems as we work together to strengthen the safety of America’s drinking water.

For more information on the health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, visit the webpage.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Triathletes get an assist from the Clean Water Act


by Elizabeth Gaige

Ohio River IRONMAN swimmers

Ohio River IRONMAN swimmers

My husband’s passion for the sport of triathlon began in the Schuylkill River, when we both competed – swimming, biking, and running – in the 2012 Philly Triathlon. Part of the draw of triathlon is the opportunity to swim in lakes and rivers – like the Schuylkill – that aren’t usually open to recreational swimmers for safety reasons.

Although our family and friends didn’t understand why we enjoyed our Schuylkill swim, it was simple – this part of the race was calm and beautiful, with a small current providing some free speed. And, we had peace of mind even in the middle of a grueling race, because the Philadelphia Water Department RiverCast website gave us vital information about river conditions.

The author and her husband, an IRONMAN

The author and her husband, an IRONMAN

After the Philly Tri, my husband chose to make IRONMAN Louisville his first full distance IRONMAN race – 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and a 26.2 mile marathon run. But, as we packed the car for his race, advisories from the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection appeared on social media and we realized the race that might only include two of three parts that the athletes had trained for.

A harmful algal bloom had formed on the Ohio River between Ohio and West Virginia weeks earlier and the effects of elevated toxins produced by the algae were being evaluated hundreds of miles downstream. Elevated nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, warm sunny days and slower-moving water fuel algal growth.  Fortunately, October’s cooler temperatures and precipitation began to flush algae and toxins from the Ohio River. To the relief of many hopeful triathletes, the recreational advisory for the swim course was lifted days before the race as multiple water quality test results showed toxins falling below Kentucky’s threshold.

On race day, 2,300 triathletes experienced first-hand the “swimmable” part of the Clean Water Act’s goals. I welcomed my Ironman at the finish line 13 hours and 52 minutes after he jumped into the Ohio River, thankful that the Clean Water Act is there to protect the nearly half-million triathletes that count on safe water for swimming at thousands of events each year.


About the Author: Elizabeth Gaige works in EPA’s Air Protection Division in Philadelphia.  She has completed 88 races since 2003, 16 of which involved open water swimming!



Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Show Your Patriotism: Join the Beach Health Revolution This Independence Day

By Cameron Davis

Some of the most frequent questions I get are “do you swim at the beach?” or “are Great Lakes beaches clean?”

"Sage at Lee Street Beach"My inner beach enthusiast kicks in and I use the question as a chance to go into education mode. Sparing you the lecture here, my basic answer is: “Absolutely. Great Lakes beaches are some of the best in the world. Just pay attention to your local advisories.”

As we head into the Independence Day holiday and beyond, this summer we have even more reasons to hit the beach:

  • Check out/search for a Great Lakes volunteer beach health program to learn about why beaches close and how you can do your part to keep your community’s beach open, clean and fun.
  • The need for beach advisories and closures is decreasing. For example, the number of swimming bans and advisories in Chicago is at a five-year low.

Much of this work is the result of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative investments. Which means, they’re your programs.

And, if all of this isn’t enough to make you want to head to your neighborhood Great Lakes beach this 4th of July, think about this: though the water may still be warming up this time of year, unlike the east, west and south coasts, we don’t have salt to sting your eyes. Or stinging jellyfish. Or man-eating sharks.

Find out more about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at or by following me on Twitter @CameronDavisEPA.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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