“Forever Chemicals”, such as those found in firefighting foam, cookware, and food packaging, have been contaminating the drinking water supplies across the nation.
These forever chemicals are also referred to as PFAS (Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and since 2013, Rhode Island has tested every major drinking water system and every school in the state.
An agency toxicologist determined that reducing PFAS levels in drinking water would benefit human health through better immune function, slightly larger babies, and slightly lower cholesterol. Children under 2 years of age are most at risk of exposure. Although Rhode Island has been in the process of writing legislation on this matter for quite some time, it has been interrupted by the appointment of its governor to the position of U.S. Secretary of Commerce. This relocation of the governor to Washington, DC, along with the “all-hands-on-deck” required to address the Covid pandemic has many concerned that the completion of the regulatory process will continue to be delayed.
The proposal before the legislature focuses on two potential maximum contaminant levels of either 10 or 20 parts per trillion for the weighted sum of six PFAS. One part per trillion is about equal to a grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Although the health department has taken the lead on a drinking water standard, the agency is collaborating with the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) on broader application of the rules. Once the governor’s office approves a drinking water standard, the DEM would then start moving ahead on adopting the same standard for groundwater aquifers. The DEM involvement is important as they can hold the companies responsible for manufacturing these forever chemicals to resolve and reduce the contamination issues themselves.
The total cost for treatment systems across the state could be as high as $44 million and, even with the Covid Pandemic, other states including the neighboring Massachusetts, have been able to put forth regulations and standards.