Read the full article by Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott (ecoRI News)

“At the Rhode Island Department of Health, we believe that health starts in our communities. It starts with the air we breathe, the food we have access to and eat, and the water that we drink. An important part of promoting health in our communities involves evaluating the best science available and creating sound public health policy that responds to emerging environmental health concerns.

That is what is happening right now in Rhode Island with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The Department of Health will be developing regulations in the coming months that will set a maximum level of PFAS for drinking water in our state.

PFAS are a group of chemicals used in a variety of industries. Their widespread use in thousands of everyday consumer products that are non-stick, stain-resistant, or waterproof is one way people can be exposed to PFAS. PFAS can also be found in drinking water from wells and surface water due to contamination from industrial facilities, their use in firefighting foam, and other sources. Almost everyone in the United States has been exposed through one of these sources, and therefore has some PFAS in their blood. Studies suggest that PFAS exposure can affect people’s health, including through changes to developing fetuses, cholesterol levels, and immune systems.

Work to address PFAS has been a priority in Rhode Island. The Department of Health has been working with the Department of Environmental Management, Brown University, and other academic partners to do an extensive analysis of PFAS in our public water systems. The Department of Health and partners have tested PFAS for all school and municipal water supplies, as well as some child-care centers and smaller drinking water systems potentially at risk of PFAS contamination.

Finally, the Department of Environmental Management has been testing private wells. Through this sampling, one water system in Rhode Island was found to have exceeded the PFAS level that the Environmental Protection Agency has set for possible health concerns. (This system is located in a section of Burrillville.) The Department of Environmental Management did an investigation into the source of the PFAS, and both agencies provided public education and engineering services and helped ensure that funding was available for the system to connect to a safer source of drinking water.

Throughout this process, environmental health and drinking water experts from the Department of Health have been working closely with researchers and officials at water systems throughout the state to evaluate establishing a PFAS limit for Rhode Island that is lower than the federal level. (This is known as a maximum contaminant level.) We are learning from other states in the region that are considering their own steps on these emerging chemicals, and we are ready to work with advocates and members of the General Assembly who are interested in seeing Rhode Island take action…”