Residents in Oakland section of Burrillville advised not to drink tap water

Residents in Oakland section of Burrillville advised not to drink tap water

BURRILLVILLE – The Rhode Island Department of Health and the Oakland Association water system are warning residents not to use tap water for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, and any activity that might result in swallowing.

The advisory applies to both private well owners and those serviced by the system, and follows testing that revealed what was described as a "slightly" elevated level of certain man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

According to a release on the issue, in early August, RIDOH’s Center for Drinking Water Quality began working with a group of researchers at Brown University to conduct sampling at approximately 35 selected water systems to collect data on PFAS.

"The systems that were selected for this testing are located within one mile of a facility that could potentially contain these chemicals or may have in the past," it stated.

The chemicals are currently unregulated in drinking water, but the Environmental Protection Agency recently lowered the health advisory level because of new findings on health effects.

The chemicals were found in a sampling at Oakland Association, Inc., which serves approximately 175 people. As a result, the association has recommended that those in the area do not boil water, as it concentrates the chemicals, and bottled water or other licensed drinking water until the level of PFAS is below the health advisory.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is developing a process to provide bottled water at no charge to customers served by the Oakland Association who would not be able to obtain bottled water themselves without financial assistance.

In addition, RIDOH will hold a community meeting for customers of Oakland Association on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Burrillville Police Department Community Room at 1477 Victory Highway.

People who use private wells within a quarter mile of the Oakland Association well that was sampled are being given guidance on how they can get their water tested.

Oakland Association is also developing a plan of action to reduce the chemicals to acceptable levels, which could include treatment or connecting to a new water source. DEM will conduct an investigation to determine the source of the contamination. Additionally, a small number of non-residential sites near Oakland Association that have their own water systems, such as restaurants and churches, will be sampled.

All the other results on other systems sampled in Rhode Island thus far have been below the EPA recommended limit. Sample collection will continue for at least another week.

Studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over the health advisory level may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants; cancer; and effects to the liver, immune system, or thyroid.

Under the direction of the EPA, all public water systems in Rhode Island serving over 10,000 people were tested for PFAS between 2013 and 2015. At that time, there were detections in Cumberland and Westerly. Since that time, follow-up sampling at those systems have indicated that the systems do not exceed the limit.

PFASs are a class of man-made chemicals used in a variety of products and applications that are resistant to water, grease or stains including non-stick cookware, carpets, upholstered furniture, clothing, and food packaging, although the majority of PFAS have been phased out in the United States. Examples of facilities that have the potential to contain these chemicals due to use or disposal include industrial factories, airports, fire training academies, and landfills.

The EPA’s new health advisory level takes into consideration the fact that drinking water may be a source of approximately 20 percent of PFOA and/or PFOS in a person’s body, but that consumer products and food are the largest sources of exposure to these chemicals for most people. Scientists have found PFOA and PFOS in the blood of nearly all the people they tested because of their use in everyday consumer products.

More information about PFASs are available online from RIDOH and the EPA. Additionally, people can call RIDOH for more information at 401-222-5960.