Oakland Association customers asked to take precautions after elevated PFA levels found in water

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is working with the Oakland Association water system in a section of Burrillville to ensure that residents take precautions after tests revealed a slightly elevated level of man-made chemicals, or PFAs, in the system’s drinking water.

The Oakland Association, which serves approximately 175 people, said RIDOH’s Center for Drinking Water Quality found three samples of the water containing 88, 69 and 114 parts per trillion of the chemicals.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently lowered the minimum of the safe level of the chemical found in the water to 70 ppt.

That’s what prompted Rhode Island health officials to start testing for PFAs.

Joseph Wendelken, a RIDOH spokesperson, said most people likely have this common chemical in their blood at some level, but the risk factors are highest for those who are pregnant. PFAs can also affect the learning, growth and development of children, as well as increase cholesterol and cancer risk, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

“Thus far we’ve done about 85 percent of the sampling and the testing and this has been the only exceedance that we’ve had through out the state,” he said. “It also is associated with certain factories and certain industrial facilities of which we have historically had a lot in Rhode Island.”

Until the source of the contamination is found, all customers of the Oakland Association water system, as well as people who use private wells in the quarter mile radius are being advised not to drink the water.

“We have grandchildren and were very concerned,” Resident Tom Trimble said “There’s a lot of young people that are on our streets that are exposed to this chemical. All be it its just been discovered but it is very important that we get notified of it quickly.”

RIDOH and DEM held a community meeting for customers of the Oakland Association on Oct. 3 to address questions and to provide people with information on how to get their private wells tested.

The Oakland Association water system provided guidance to its customers, saying to not boil water since it concentrates the chemical. The association instead is telling customers to use bottled water or other licensed drinking water instead of boiling water to prevent the concentration of the chemical.

This bottled water or water from a different source should be used for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, and any activity that might result in swallowing water. Health officials say you can still use the water to shower and wash dishes.

The town will distribute free bottled water to customers starting Oct. 4 at the Burrillville Police Department.

Wendelken said the test results from the area came out on Sept. 29 and they are still in the process if getting the water back to a safe level. It has not been determined where the source of the contamination is, what’s causing it or how long it will impact the water.