PFAS have been detected in drinking water sources in seven Massachusetts municipalities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced the development of a long-awaited plan to regulate a group of man-made chemicals that have been detected at toxic levels in drinking water and soil.

The chemicals, known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other diseases.

PFAS have been used for decades in common products such as food packaging, nonstick pans, cleaning agents and water resistant textiles, as well as in firefighting foam. Manufacturers no longer use certain types of PFAS in their products, but the chemicals don’t break down and can accumulate over time in the environment and the human body.

The EPA has announced its intention to release a regulatory plan by the end of 2019, but a number of environmental groups have criticized the EPA for what they consider to be a lack of urgency in addressing a hazardous health situation with an expansive scope.

Last October, the Conservation Law Foundation filed a petition with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to begin a rule-making process to establish state-level drinking water standards for PFAS. A public meeting on the petition was held on Jan. 16, and public comment was accepted through Jan. 17. The results of the petition and public comments are still pending. (For more information, visit www.mass.gov/lists/pfas-information-a-petition-for-rulemaking-to-establish-a-treatment-technique-drinking-water.)

The Boston Globe on March 6 reported that PFAS have been detected in drinking water sources in seven Massachusetts municipalities. The rates exceed EPA limits in Ayer, Barnstable, Mashpee and Westfield. PFAS were also detected in Danvers, Harvard and Hudson.

Because of their usage in firefighting foam and other flame retardants, PFAS have been found at higher levels near current and former military bases and airports.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/pfas.

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