Environmental Law & LitigationPublic Health and Government Environmental Regulations for PFAS in R.I., M.A.

August 1, 20200

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a collection of manmade chemicals used in the commercial production of a number of products including Teflon, firefighting foams or “AFFF” (particularly those in use at airports/military airfields), fabrics, etc. The benefit of PFAS is that they are used to make products that are grease, water, and stain resistant, but it became clear through extensive scientific testing and study that these products can cause adverse human health effects. In addition, the chemicals are considered “forever chemicals” because most do not naturally degrade. PFAS sometimes also occur in drinking water sources.

Today, we will discuss the ways in which government environmental regulations are attempting to address the issues PFAS contamination may cause, and what it means for you.

The Response in the United States

First, several companies voluntarily phased most PFAS out of production, even before government environmental regulations took hold. This prevents some increases in PFAS buildup in living organisms (including us!) and the environment. However, many PFAS are still manufactured elsewhere, and make their way into the U.S. through the importation of goods. Among the alternatives deemed safe, though, we know that at least HFPR-DA (also known as GenX) has been found in the Arctic Ocean water along with several PFAS.

Second, in 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a drinking water health advisory for two different PFAS compounds, as our blog discussed in 2018. While not one of the government environmental regulations, it helped to inform them. Our 2018 blog article also provides some potential impacts to clients and to DEM programs related to the RI DEM’s adoption of EPA’s advisory recommendation in 2017.

Massachusetts Ups the Ante

In 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also adopted this standard as one of their government environmental regulations, but for five different PFAS instead of just the two. Even further, DEP has proposed additional amendments to drinking water guidelines as well as soil and groundwater remediation standards, changing the standard to just 20 parts per trillion for six different PFAS.

These are much stricter government environmental regulations than the federal advisory from EPA. They are more stringent than the regulations in R.I. as well, where DEM’s adoption of the EPA advisory means that the standard in R.I. for drinking water is 70 parts per trillion for two different PFAS (or for any combination of the two) for GA or GAA-categorized groundwater areas.

The Town and County of Nantucket’s Airport Commission, Board of Health, and Select Board  issued a joint message recently regarding a plan to address PFAS contamination. In part, it noted that unfortunately, no non-PFAS firefighting foams/AFFF are authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration, which also requires airports to test their firefighting equipment twice a year. A new facility built by the FAA opened in January, which will test alternative foams for use at airports to discontinue PFAS use by 2021. Federal government environmental regulations may be forthcoming on this. Nantucket’s airport, however, purchased equipment that allows them to test the foams in a way that recycles the foam back into the containers as opposed to spraying across their property.

The issue of firefighting foams and PFAS again made the news in July of this year, due to the use of such foams in addressing the fire aboard the U.S. Navy’s USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego. Thus, the chemicals are still a threat in many ways.

Whether you live in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, the issue of PFAS levels in the environment and in humans is one to be taken seriously. Not only is it a personal issue, as it may adversely affect your health, but it can be a legal issue if a property you are/have been involved with has elevated amounts of PFAS in the soil or groundwater. For any questions related to the R.I. and Massachusetts standards, email us or call 401.477.0023 and speak with an attorney.

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