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Economy

The EPA is Cracking Down on Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water

On the new PFAS rules, firefighters, and Tesla’s brand loyalty

The EPA is Cracking Down on Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More than 100,000 people have been evacuated in Kazakhstan and Russia due to the worst flooding in decades • The U.K. is expecting a “mini heatwave” • Multiple tornado warnings have been issued in southern Louisiana.

THE TOP FIVE

1. EPA will require utilities to remove ‘forever chemicals’ from drinking water

In an “ extraordinary” move, the Environmental Protection Agency today announced limits on “forever chemicals” in drinking water. The rule means municipal water systems will have to monitor for six types of PFAS chemicals and remove them. “This is historic and monumental,” Emily Donovan, co-founder of advocacy group Clean Cape Fear, told NPR. “I didn’t think [the EPA] would ever do it.”

There are more than 12,000 known PFAS, and they are just about everywhere, including in nearly half the tap water in the U.S. PFAS exposure in humans has been linked to health problems including decreased fertility, developmental delays, metabolic disorders, and increased risk of some cancers. Utilities have five years to comply with the rule, which will cost them about $1.5 billion annually. Some money from the bipartisan infrastructure law will go toward helping states with rolling out the monitoring and filtration systems.

If you are wondering what any of this has to do with climate change, note that “these synthetic organic chemicals are typically fossil fuel derivatives,” Elsie Sunderland, an environmental chemist at Harvard, explained to Vox. “We talk about climate change and chemical exposure as two separate issues, but we should start thinking about them together. As we move away from fossil fuel combustion and towards renewable energy, the industry is going to turn their products into plastics and synthetic chemicals.”

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  • 2. Climate scientists ‘increasingly concerned’ about rate of warming

    Scientists have been digesting yesterday’s report from the European Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), which said that last month was the warmest March ever recorded and that temperatures have been at record highs for 10 months straight. The bleak data has some researchers worried the rate of warming is increasing and that we’re in “uncharted territory.” It’s worth compiling some of their thoughts here:

    • “Myself and other climate scientists are asking whether this year is a blip, a phase change, whether the climate system is broken and behaving in a different way to what we expect.” – Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S.
    • “Things seem to be happening slightly faster [than expected].” –Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London.
    • “One year could possibly, may be an extreme outlier but the data we are witnessing already in 2024 are pretty disturbing. They hint at feedbacks in the climate system that are stronger than the models predict and are making me and many of my colleagues increasingly concerned about the pace and rate of climate breakdown.” –Jonathan Bamber, director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre at the University of Bristol.
    • “If the anomaly does not stabilise by August – a reasonable expectation based on previous El Niño events – then the world will be in uncharted territory. It could imply that a warming planet is already fundamentally altering how the climate system operates, much sooner than scientists had anticipated.” –Gavin Schmidt, the director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    Not all experts agree the rate of warming has increased. “The world is warming AS FAST as we predicted,” said climate scientist Michael E. Mann, “and that’s bad enough.”

    3. Fire officials ramp up staffing to take on growing risks

    America’s federal wildfire officials are changing how they recruit, hire, and assign firefighting crews in response to growing wildfire threats, according toThe Associated Press. The change is “the biggest shift in wildfire management in decades.” It involves creating more leadership teams – the top-level crewmembers who take on the biggest and most complex fires – and recruiting a lot of new wildland firefighters. The Forest Service aims to hire around 11,300 firefighters this year, AP reports. While in the past many firefighting jobs were seasonal, a longer season calls for more permanent positions. Fire season is already underway. More than 2,669 square miles burned in the first three months of 2024, more than half of last year’s total.

    4. Survey finds Tesla buyers are extremely loyal to the brand

    There are more electric vehicles coming onto the American market every year, but Tesla owners can’t be lured away. A recent survey from Bloomberg Intelligence finds 87% of Tesla drivers in the U.S. say they’ll stick with the brand for their next vehicle purchase, the highest retention rate among the brands in the survey. The second-highest was for Lexus at 68%, followed by 54% for Toyota. At the bottom end was Kia at 33%. About 81% of potential Tesla drivers are switching from other EV brands. Overall, the survey found that 42% of respondents were thinking of buying an EV for their next car.

    5. EPA cracks down on toxic chemical pollution

    The Biden administration yesterday issued its final rule limiting dangerous air pollution from chemical plants. The new EPA regulations will require more than 200 plants to reduce emissions of several toxic chemicals, but focus heavily on two in particular that are very likely carcinogenic: ethylene oxide (used as a sterilizer) and chloroprene (used to make rubber). Manufacturers will now have to monitor their operations for emissions of these two substances and stop any leaks they find. They’ll also have to submit quarterly data from their monitoring efforts, which will be made public, The New York Timesreported. The rule is expected to reduce ethylene oxide and chloroprene emissions by 80%, and cut more than 6,200 tons of toxic air pollution every year, “dramatically reducing the number of people with elevated cancer risk,” the EPA said.

    THE KICKER

    Coal power could account for less than 10% of the total U.S. electricity mix in the coming weeks, a record low.


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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

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