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Monday, June 24, 2019

RI joins other states asking for action on Teflon-type chemicals

As Trump rolls back enforcement, RI and other states petition for more action.
Contamination found in Quonnie water supply; could be in private wells too

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Director Janet Coit has joined environmental commissioners from the other New England states and New York in urging faster federal action on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. 

Charlestown gets its drinking water from wells. An exception is
Quonnie where tests found PFAS-types of contamination in drinking
water. In addition to Teflon, PFAS is commonly associated with
military bases, especially old and abandoned ones like the Ninigret
Auxiliary Air Field ( site of Ninigret Park and the National Wildlife 

Refuge). PFAS from operations, especially firefighting,
could be in many private wells that are not generally tested for PFAS.
The states need guidance and help from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) on classifying PFAS in a standard way, warning the public about them, and mitigating the effects of this group of chemicals.

"Addressing the public health and environmental threats from per- and poly-fluorinated compounds is incredibly complex and important scientific work," said Director Coit. 

"This is an issue that affects every state, including Rhode Island, and federal action is urgently needed. We are asking Congress to direct EPA to step up the pace and provide us with the tools we need to effectively protect our citizens and our environment."

As members of the Northeast Committee on the Environment (NECOE), the commissioners have signed a multistate letter requesting that the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Congressional PFAS Task Force take immediate federal action on PFAS contamination. 

The letter was sent to the Co-Chairs of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), as well as Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) of the US Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works (EPW).

Synthetic chemicals that are resistant to water, grease, or stains, PFAS are used in a variety of products and applications including non-stick cookware, carpets, upholstered furniture, clothing, and food packaging. Most PFAS have been phased out in the United States because of concerns about health effects. 

Examples of facilities that have the potential to still contain these chemicals due to use or disposal include industrial factories, airports, firefighting facilities, and landfills.

Sampling and analysis of drinking water for PFAS contamination has been happening in Rhode Island since 2013.

"Consistent, national PFAS standards and the development of standardized analytical methods for PFAS are critical to our work to identify PFAS, and to take steps to ensure the health and safety of drinking water for all consumers in Rhode Island," said Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) Deputy Director Ana Novais.

After RIDOH detected PFAS contamination in groundwater and drinking water wells in the Oakland Village section of Burrillville in 2017, DEM assisted the Town and Oakland Village residents by providing bottled water for food preparation, cooking, and drinking, and RIDOH worked to connect consumers to an alternative water source. The contamination was caused by firefighting foam used by the Oakland Mapleville Fire Department and affected 55 families and six private well owners.

While northeastern states have been at the forefront of this issue due to early detection of PFAS contamination, federal efforts have not provided clear standards and guidance for states to address the effects of PFAS on human health and the environment. In their letter, NECOE commissioners highlight five specific matters that need immediate federal action:

1. EPA should establish a national maximum contaminant level. 

2. PFAS constitute a class of compounds with common characteristics and should be regulated accordingly. 

3. Require EPA to amend its regulations to treat PFAS compounds as hazardous substances under the Superfund law and make available low-cost supplemental loans for regional cleanup efforts. 

4. Urge EPA to expedite the development and dissemination of analytical methods and treatment technologies that extend beyond drinking water. 

5. Urge more aggressive and responsible federal regulation of the use of PFAS compounds and other emerging contaminants. Read the Task Force letter here and the Senate EPW letter here.

Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at for more information on boating in Rhode Island as well as other timely updates.

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