Rhode Island must address PFAS

Posted 6/10/22

By Reps. Terri Cortvriend and June Speakman

They are in the coating of your nonstick frying pan. The wrapper of your favorite burger. The stain-resistant upholstery of your couch, and even the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?

Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

Rhode Island must address PFAS


By Reps. Terri Cortvriend and June Speakman

They are in the coating of your nonstick frying pan. The wrapper of your favorite burger. The stain-resistant upholstery of your couch, and even the water coming from your tap.

They are PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — a huge group of toxic chemicals that are used in thousands of consumer products, and they are now also in our water and the blood of nearly every American.

The Rhode Island General Assembly is considering several bills to limit Rhode Islanders’ exposure to these “forever chemicals,” so named because they stay in the environment rather than breaking down. 

Two bills focus on testing for PFAS in drinking water (2022-H 7233) and soil (2022-H 7234) and cleaning it up. Two others focus on to limiting contamination of our water and landfill by banning PFAS from products such as food wrappers (2202-H 7438A), clothing, carpeting, furniture and firefighting foam (2022-H 7436). Another creates a task force to develop strategies and secure funding to help fire departments replace PFAS-laden turnout gear with PFAS-free gear (2022-H 8133).

Every day, we learn more about the pervasiveness of PFAS in our environment and ourselves, and about its dangers. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes studies have associated PFAS with increased cholesterol, decreased vaccine efficacy, changes in liver enzymes, low birth weight, and increased incidence of testicular and kidney cancer. 

Virtually every American has PFAS in their blood, absorbing it through the water they drink, their clothes, their nonstick pans and fast food wrappers. The extent of contamination is not fully known, as this is a large family of chemicals — several thousand — that have not been routinely monitored. 

What we know for sure is that we need legislation to control the introduction of these chemicals into our water and soil by using products that don’t contain them. And we must set a contaminant limit — we propose 20 parts per trillion — so water suppliers and well owners can test their water against it, and immediately remediate if necessary. 

We must also begin the process of replacing firefighters’ gear and firefighting foam with PFAS-free alternatives. Over the past several years, cancer has replaced heart attacks and line-of-duty incidents as the leading cause of firefighter deaths. Scientists point to the shedding of PFAS, both into the air when exposed to the heat of a fire and into the skin through wearing PFAS-laden gear, as a likely reason.

The good news is that private-sector companies are now waking up to the dangers of PFAS. A recent study by Consumer Reports found PFAS in packaging, plates, bowls and utensils of most major fast food chains. Several of these companies — from McDonald’s to Burger King to Chipotle — say they will move to PFAS-free wrappers. 

There are now alternatives to PFAS-laden firefighting foam. Work is underway on alternatives for turnout gear. And when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better bill, it allocated $95 million to fund the replacement of contaminated gear. Although the bill did not move forward, this underscores the significance of this problem.

The federal government is, at long last, directing its attention to these toxins. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a “PFAS Strategic Roadmap” in late 2021, and the recently passed infrastructure bill includes $10 billion for addressing PFAS in drinking water, some of which will come to Rhode Island.

For now, it is essential that we pass this legislation in Rhode Island, as many of our neighbors have done.

Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. June Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) are the sponsors of several House bills addressing PFAS.

2023 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.