EPA Announces new Drinking Water Standards for PFAS

The EPA has announced new drinking water standards for per- and poly-fluorinated compounds, also called PFAS. These chemicals have unique properties that make them useful for reducing sticking and friction between surfaces. They are used in non-stick cookware, firefighting foam, stain-resistant clothes, household cleaners, paints and finishes, and industrial machinery. Unfortunately, many PFAS have been found to be harmful to people’s health, and are “forever chemicals” that can be found in the environment for many years. People can reduce their exposure to PFAS in consumer produces by using EPA Safer Choice certified products, and EPA is now reducing PFAS in drinking water.

There are hundreds of PFAS, but the EPA is focusing on a handful. The PFAS EPA is focusing on are linked to health effects including several types of cancer and reduced immunity. EPA is setting individual limits for five PFAS (PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA or GenX chemicals). EPA is also setting a limit on mixtures exceeding a safe level of a group of four PFAS (PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals).  Drinking water systems will be required to test for these chemicals and treat the water to lower their concentration if they are too high. The new standards will be implemented over the next few years. Drinking water systems must test their water for PFAS and report the results to customers within three years. They must treat water to meet the new standards within five years.

EPA Warns Farmworkers About Risks of Dacthal

On April 1st, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the herbicide tetrachloroterephthalate (DCPA), commonly known as Dacthal, may pose a risk to people who apply the pesticide or enter treated fields. This was determined during a registration review, which is done every 15 years to ensure the safety of registered pesticides. DCPA is an herbicide widely used to control weeds, particularly in agricultural settings where crops like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and onions are grown. 

The agency estimated that pregnant individuals working with DCPA products could be exposed to levels of the herbicide that are 4 to 20 times higher than what is considered safe, even if proper personal protective equipment and engineering controls are used. Additionally, the current label restricts entry into treated areas for 12 hours, but these areas may remain unsafe for 25 days or longer. The babies of people exposed to Dacthal during pregnancy could be at risk for low birth weight, impaired brain development, decreased IQ, and impaired motor skills. 

The EPA is issuing a warning to farmworkers based on these findings, and is in the process of determining if use of this pesticide needs to be suspended or cancelled. 


Spring Wildfires Reduce Air Quality in Virginia

Virginia has entered its spring wildfire season, and multiple fires in the mountains are lowering air quality in affected areas. You see where active and contained wildfires are on the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Wildfire Public Viewer. Page County has been especially affected, with several large wildfires.

Fires can release smoke particles that can cause health problems in people who breathe them. While large smoke particles settle out quickly, tiny particles called PM2.5 can be carried long distances. Breathing air with high PM2.5 can cause breathing problems in people with asthma or other lung diseases and can raise blood pressure and potentially lead to heart attack. You can check your local air quality and get information about air quality and health at AirNow. When air quality is low, try to spend less time outdoors, don’t exercise strenuously outdoors, and take breaks during outdoor activity. Children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung disease should be especially careful. Wearing an N95 respirator can help protect you while you are outside.

If there is smoke in outdoors air, while indoors you should keep windows and doors closed. You can run your HVAC fan to recirculate air so the HVAC filter can help remove particles. For bedrooms and other rooms where people spend a lot of time, a room HEPA air filter or air purifier can help. Filters with ozonizers or ionizers are not necessary and can generate chemicals that can irritate your lungs and eyes. Air filters should be sized according to the room size, and are only helpful if the room has doors that can be kept closed to keep the room air from mixing with air in other rooms.

You can read more about wildfire smoke and how to protect yourself at our Wildfire Smoke fact sheet.

PFAS no Longer Used in Grease-Proofing for Food Wrappers

On February 28, 2024 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that manufacturers of packaged food are no longer using per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in food contact wrappers for food sold in the United States. This was part of a voluntary phase-out of use of these chemicals for this purpose that started in 2020.

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of chemicals that resist both water and oils. They have a wide variety of uses, including preventing friction in machinery, coating non-stick cookware, and in packaging for consumer goods. Unfortunately, many PFAS have been found to be harmful to people’s health. These chemicals do not break down in the environment and are one of the types of chemicals often called “forever chemicals”. While two of the previously most widely used PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, are no longer used in the US, many other PFAS are currently being used in consumer products. You can read more about PFAS on our fact sheet.

What is the significance of not using PFAS in food wrappers?

Our food is one of the major ways people are exposed to PFAS. Previously one of the major sources of dietary PFAS was microwave popcorn, since PFAS were used to grease-proof the bags. PFAS have also been found in paper bags and wrappers for baked goods, sandwiches and burgers, and fried foods. Removing PFAS from food wrappers will help to reduce our exposure to PFAS in the food we eat.

October 28 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

Many of us have old prescription medicines we no longer need in our cabinets, or old expired over the counter medicines. Taking expired medications isn’t safe, and storing unneeded medication increases the risk a child could get into the medicines and be poisoned. Other medications are sometimes abused, and these could be taken by teenagers at risk for substance abuse. In order to help people dispose of medicines safely, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is holding an National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on October 28. The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day has a search for collection sites near you.

While it’s best to get rid of old medicines with a prescription drug take back program, if you need to you can dispose of them other ways. The Food and Drug Administration has directions on how to safety throw away old medicines, and has a list of medicines that they recommend flushing. Medicines on the “flush list” are especially dangerous because they are easy to overdose on, and some are frequently abused. If you have one of the medicines on the “flush list” and no longer need it, it is best to get rid of it immediately by flushing it down the toilet instead of waiting for a drug take back event.

FDA Reports Some Pain Products Contain Hidden Ingredients

The FDA has found that multiple dietary supplements or herbal remedies intended to treat pain from arthritis or other conditions contain ingredients that are not listed. This can be dangerous because of side effects, drug interactions, or potential for overdose if the person is taking other medications that contain those hidden ingredients.  If you have taken a product of this type and think it caused side effects, you can report those at the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

Be cautious when shopping for supplements and herbal remedies. These products are not approved by the FDA, so may not contain the ingredients listed at the stated amounts, or can contain unlisted ingredients. You can get more information on supplements and how to choose them safely at the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.

Keeping Indoor Air Clean During Wildfires 

Wildfire smoke can carry long distances and persist for days. Breathing wildfire smoke is bad for your health, causing breathing problems and aggravating long-term conditions like high blood pressure. Children, people with chronic lung and heart conditions, and the elderly are at increased risk for health effects. While you can help protect yourself by staying indoors, when smoke lingers in an area, smoke particles can move into indoors air. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your indoor air clean.  

  • If you have an HVAC system, run the air conditioner or fan to recirculate air through the filter. Use a high efficiency filter (rated MERV-13 or higher) and replace the filters as directed. Learn about your HVAC system and use the settings that will keep the fan running (“On” rather than “Auto”) and recirculate air without bringing in more outdoor air. If your system has a fresh air option, close the intake. If you have a window air conditioner, close the outdoor air damper, and make sure the seal between the air conditioner and window is tight.  
  • If you do not have an air conditioner, keep windows closed, and on hot days consider going to a public air-conditioned space or cooling center. Locate a cooling center near you by calling 2-1-1.   
  • Use a portable air cleaner. The best type uses a HEPA filter. Do not use a system with an ozonizer or ionizer unless you can turn it off. These settings can generate chemicals that irritate your lungs. If you can’t get a portable air cleaner, consider a DIY air cleaner.  
  • Create a clean air room. Sometimes it’s easier to try to keep the air in one room of a house clean rather than trying to keep the entire house’s air clean. If any members of your household are especially sensitive to smoke, they may benefit from a clean air room.  
  • Avoid household activities that pollute the air. Many normal household tasks, like cooking and cleaning, can temporarily generate airborne particles that can worsen indoor air quality. Do not fry food or use wood-burning stoves, gas stoves or furnaces, or propane. Do not clean with chemical cleaners. Avoid sweeping and vacuuming.  

Fires Lower Outdoor Air Quality in Virginia

In much of Virginia outdoor air quality is low due to smoke particles from wildfires in Canada being brought in by the wind, reaching as far south as North Carolina. A large landfill fire in Fairfax County on June 6 also contributed to air quality declines in that area, with smoke widespread over I-95. The primary components of the smoke haze are tiny particles called PM2.5, which are less than 2.5 micrometers across. These are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs, and even be absorbed into the blood. These can cause breathing problems for people with asthma or other lung diseases, and can raise blood pressure. In some cases breathing air with high levels of PM 2.5 can cause irregular heartbeat or even heart attacks. You can check your local air quality and get information about air quality and health at AirNow. See the AirNow Guide for Particle Pollution for steps to take when air quality is low.

Children, older adults, and people with chronic diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and heart disease are more sensitive and should be especially careful. When air quality is low, try to spend less time outdoors, don’t exercise strenuously, and take breaks during outdoor activity. If you notice eye or lung irritation, go indoors. You can help protect yourself by wearing an N95 respirator while you are outside.

While indoors, keep doors and windows closed to keep outside air from coming in. You can run your HVAC fan to recirculate air through the HVAC filter and help to remove particles. If you have a room HEPA filter, these are very effective at cleaning room air. Filters with ozonizers or ionizers are not necessary, since these can generate chemicals that can irritate your lungs and eyes.

Visit our Smoke Exposure factsheet for more information on how to protect yourself from smoke in outdoors air.

April 22 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

The US Department of Justice has set aside April 22 as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.  Many of us have old, partly used up bottles of prescription medicines in our cabinets. These medicines can be dangerous for children who might get into them, and if expired can be dangerous for anyone to take. Having multiple bottles of unneeded medicine also increases your chances of mixing bottles up and taking the wrong medicine or the wrong dose. Instead of throwing these medicines in the trash or flushing them down the toilet, you can turn them in to an authorized collector who can safely dispose of them. You can visit the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day website to find a collection site near you.

While its best for most medicines to return them to an authorized collector, in the case of some especially dangerous medicines if you can’t turn them in right away when you no longer need them, you should dispose of them immediately by flushing them down the toilet.  This includes medicines that are frequently misused like fentanyl or oxycodone. You can check the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “flush list” to see if your medicine should be immediately turned over to an authorized collector or flushed when no longer needed.

Authorized collectors are available to take old medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, any time of the year. You can get more information on our fact sheet about leftover medicine.

DEA Public Safety Alert on Xylazine Mixed with Fentanyl

Dangers of Xylazine

The US Drug Enforcement Agency issued a public safety alert today about an increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with xylazine. Xylazine is a veterinary drug used to tranquilize horses, and is not approved for use in humans. In the past few years xylazine has begun to turn up as an additive in many street drugs. It has been found mixed with fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and other drugs.  It is sometimes sold alone as “tranq”.

Someone who takes xylazine can get groggy and pass out, and can have low blood pressure, slowed heartbeat, and slowed breathing.  This can cause a person to die if they overdose. Xylazine and fentanyl taken together are especially dangerous, since both drugs slow down breathing and can cause someone to stop breathing completely. Overdose with opioids like fentanyl can be reversed with naloxone (Narcan), but naloxone does not work for xylazine overdose. Xylazine can also cause skin ulcers when it is injected. This can cause deep sores that do not heal and sometimes require amputation.

How to Get Help

If you or someone you know has been using xylazine or other drugs, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for information on substance abuse and resources to help quit. You can also get information about addiction treatment programs in your area at FindTreatment.gov.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services has information about substance abuse, services for people who use drugs or alcohol and could become pregnant or could become pregnant, and training in how to use naloxone for opioid overdose.

The Virginia Department of Social Services has information for people who want help with substance abuse and are on Medicaid or uninsured.