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US unveils plan to control some toxins in drinking water

[WASHINGTON] The US Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a plan to control a group of toxic chemicals found in Americans' drinking water but will not set a limit for them until later this year.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Thursday announced the agency's Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan, a series of short- and long-term steps to help states exposed to these common chemicals found in Teflon and foams used by firefighters linked to cancer and other health risks.

The agency did not announce a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFAS, a legal limit for the amount the chemical can be allowed in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

By the end of this year, EPA said it will undertake a rulemaking process around that by the end of the year.

"We are moving forward with several important actions, including the maximum contaminant level process, that will help affected communities better monitor, detect, and address PFAS," Mr Wheeler said.

The chemicals have been used for decades in common products such as Teflon and other non-stick products and have contaminated water systems, most recently in areas around military bases in states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia.

The Defence Department uses foam containing the chemicals for military exercises.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a draft study that found that risk level for exposure to PFAS chemicals should be at least seven to 10 times lower than the current threshold of 70 parts per trillion recommended by the EPA.

Environmental groups accused EPA of dragging its feet on setting a more stringent threshold but Mr Wheeler said at a press conference that it needs to make sure a new proposed limit is legally defensible.

"We did not slow down developing this plan," he said.