Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cincinnati attorney instrumental in uncovering 'forever chemicals' cheers EPA limits on PFAS

people wearing white lab coats and purple rubber gloves pour water in clear containers into smaller brown bottles
Joshua A. Bickel
Eva Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a smaller glass container for experimentation as part of drinking water and PFAS research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response on Feb. 16, 2023, in Cincinnati.

Years after a Cincinnati attorney took on companies that released "forever chemicals" into drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency has set strict new limits on some of them.

Rob Bilott's legal fight against DuPont's release of PFAS chemicals in one West Virginia community is the basis for the 2019 movie "Dark Waters."

He says the EPA's order Wednesday to greatly reduce six of the chemicals in drinking water over the next three years is a huge step.

"This is truly historic that we've seen these enforceable drinking water standards actually enacted," he said in a remote news conference Wednesday. "This has been the result of decades of work of a lot of folks across the country."

RELATED: How can you tell if a product has toxic PFAS?

PFAS is a family of over more than 5,000 chemicals. Some of those chemicals — including those the EPA set strict regulations for — have been linked to cancer, heart disease, thyroid dysfunction and other health problems. The chemicals first used industrially about 80 years ago and phased out over the last two decades do not degrade significantly over time and are difficult to destroy.

The federal government believes most people in the U.S. have some level of PFAS exposure.

"These are chemicals that have been linked with an unfortunately wide variety of different health impacts," Bilott said. "I think that's reflected in the levels that are being set for some of these chemicals."

The EPA's new regulations say two of the chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — cannot exceed four parts per trillion in drinking water. Those substances were found in non-stick coatings and older kinds of firefighting foam. Other chemicals including PFNA, PFHxS and a class known as GenX can't exceed 10 parts per trillion.

RELATED: Ohio will help fire departments destroy PFAS-laden firefighting foam

Bilott's battle against DuPont started in 1998, when farmer Wilbur Tennant of Parkersburg, W. Va., raised concerns about cattle deaths near one of the company's plants. Through legal proceedings, Bilott learned DuPont had dumped the chemical in the area and had knowledge it could be toxic. After years of legal battles, the company settled for more than $670 million.

In addition to the new regulations, the EPA announced Wednesday $1 billion in federal funding for detection and elimination of the chemicals.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.