News Feature | September 12, 2017

Rhode Island Tests For PFCs In 30 Water Systems

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Rhode Island is checking small water systems for perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) as part of a policy that could become a model for other states.

“The Rhode Island Department of Health and Brown University are partnering to look for perfluorinated chemicals in more than 30 water systems across Rhode Island. The sampling began and will continue through at least September,” the Associated Press reported.

Public water systems serving over 10,000 people were tested for PFCs around the country between 2013 and 2015, the report said.

“These new tests are focused on water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people, which weren't sampled previously. Brown is collecting the samples and the state will oversee the analysis,” the report said.

Joseph Wendelken, a health department spokesman, explained the need for testing.

"The issue here is that we do not definitively know what sites, if any, are sources of contamination," said Joseph Wendelken, a health department spokesman. "That is one of the reasons why we are sampling so broadly."

A study released in June by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University in Boston shows PFCs are found in “drinking water for 15 million Americans in 27 states,” Time reported. The research project includes an interactive map highlighting where PFCs have been detected. Two detection sites are listed in Rhode Island.

Cumberland, RI, is among the Rhode Island cities where PFC problems have surfaced in the past.

“Now they're within a safe threshold. And that's good news. The toxic chemical is linked to cancer, thyroid diseases and complications during pregnancy,” WNPR reported.

Cumberland, which serves over 20,000 people, had a water sample that showed PFOA at 81 ppt. The health department "asked Cumberland to monitor that particular water system by sampling it every quarter," the report said. At the time, the system was below the federal threshold for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), but the U.S. lowered its guideline to 70 ppt last year.

“The PFOA levels have dropped since then. They’re down to the low 20s,” the report said.

Rhode Island is not the only state facing pressure to confront PFCs. Nearby New Hampshire approved three water laws last month after months of wrangling in the legislature.

Two of the laws tackle the issue of PFCs, a persistent challenge for New Hampshire water managers, according to New Hampshire Public Radio. A third bill commissions a water quality study. Still, residents say more should be done.

To read more about PFC issues visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.