Beginning next month, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) Center for Drinking Water Quality will partner with a group of researchers at Brown University to conduct free sampling at approximately 35 selected water systems to collect data on a group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals are currently unregulated in drinking water, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently lowered the health advisory level for two PFAS [Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)] to 70 parts per trillion because of new findings on health effects.
Under the direction of the EPA, all public water systems in Rhode Island serving over 10,000 people were tested for PFAS between 2013 and 2015. The Department of Health is conducting this testing to further assess the situation in Rhode Island.
The water sampling will take place throughout the months of August and September on public wells located within one mile of a facility that could potentially contain these chemicals or may have in the past. RIDOH is requiring the testing at these water systems, and has sent a letter notifying the 35 water systems that fit the criteria of this mandate. The data gathered will help State and local agencies (such as RIDOH, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and town planners) understand the occurrence of these chemicals in Rhode Island. If the chemicals are identified through the sampling, RIDOH will work with water systems to resample, notify customers, and implement a plan of action for treatment, if needed.
With the support of federal resources, RIDOH is funding the sampling, which will be conducted by researchers from the Brown University Superfund Research Program (https://www.brown.edu/research/projects/superfund/) under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Guelfo and the RIDOH Center for Drinking Water Quality. These staff and students have been trained in the specific protocol for collecting the water samples, which will be tested by the RIDOH State Health Laboratories (SHL) or a certified laboratory sub-contracted by the RIDOH SHL.
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals used in a variety of products and applications that are resistant to water, grease or stains including non-stick cookware, carpets, upholstered furniture, clothing, and food packaging, although the majority of PFAS have been phased out in the United States. Examples of facilities that have the potential to contain these chemicals due to use or disposal include industrial factories, airports, fire training academies, and landfills. The EPA health advisory level for PFAS is 70 parts per trillion for PFOA, PFOS, or a combination of both PFOA and PFOS. This level takes into consideration the fact that drinking-water may be a source of approximately 20% of PFOA and/or PFOS in a person's body but that consumer products and food are the largest sources of exposure to these chemicals for most people. Scientists have found PFOA and PFOS in the blood of nearly all the people they tested because of their use in everyday consumer products.
Studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over the health advisory level may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants; cancer; and effects to the liver, immune system, or thyroid.
Ensuring that drinking water is clean and safe is one of the core functions of RIDOH. Rhode Island's drinking water undergoes rigorous and frequent testing to maintain the high standards required by the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act. The mission of the RIDOH Center for Drinking Water Quality is to prevent disease and to protect and promote the health and safety of the people of Rhode Island by ensuring the state's drinking water supply. Community water suppliers are responsible for providing an annual water quality report known as the Consumer Confidence Report.