In a paper published on Thursday, two former federal officials argue that the draft of the World Health Organization’s drinking water guidelines for so-called “forever chemicals” requires extensive revisions because it disregards the best available science on the matter, The Hill reported.
In their paper, Elizabeth Southerland and Linda Birnbaum note that the WHO’s draft guidelines suggest guidance levels that are 25 times higher than those published by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
They blasted the working group that drafted the guidelines for expressing uncertainty on whether PFOA and PFOS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are linked to adverse health problems, arguing that such a conclusion shows an “inappropriate disregard of the best available science.”
Southerland formerly served as the EPA Office of Water’s director of Science and Technology. Birnbaum formerly served as the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The compounds PFOA and PFOS are two of thousands of “forever chemicals,” many of which have been linked to diseases including kidney and testicular cancer and thyroid disease. “Forever chemicals” are so named due to their ability to linger in the environment and the human body.
In its draft guidance, the WHO suggests limiting PFOA and PFOS to 100 parts per trillion in drinking water. However, the EPA recently proposed setting the limit at 4 parts per trillion.
According to The Hill, one part per trillion is the approximate equivalent of one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The authors note some countries have stricter guidelines than the US, including Denmark which set a 2-parts per trillion standard on four different PFAS. They also point out that the European Chemicals Agency recently announced that it is evaluating possible restrictions on ten thousand types of PFAS in manufacturing.
The authors also criticized the WHO for “casting doubt on the effectiveness” of PFAS ion exchange filtration systems by ignoring evidence from the EPA documenting their effectiveness.