PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) in Water

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of manmade fluorinated chemicals. They have been used since the 1940s to make products water-, grease-, and stain-resistant. Distinct properties of this chemical family cause them to be highly stable in soils, surface water, and groundwater. These properties prevent PFAS chemicals from being easily broken down in the environment, which is why they can still be found decades after a spill or release and why they are often called “forever chemicals.”

Kayakers paddling in Olney Pond at Lincoln Woods State Park

RIDEM rulemaking related to PFAS in water

Surface water quality action levels were developed based on a review of available existing data, including those associated with known PFAS sources to establish a screening level which will be used to identify locations of elevated PFAS in surface waters and which may prompt further site investigations. Any entity regulated under the rules stated in 250-150-05-01 § 1.30(D)(1) must report to DEM when surface water samples for the sum of 8 PFAS stated in § 1.30(B)(1) exceed 70ppt. Regulated entities currently or otherwise required to report to the Department are exempt from separately reporting. Notification package requirements are stated in the rule. To report or for further questions, please email:  

Groundwater quality standards are being revised to reflect the interim maximum contaminant level for drinking water that is specified in state law for PFAS chemicals.

UPDATES: The Department filed new Rules and Regulations for Surface Water Quality (250-150-05-1) that took effect December 28, 2023. The Department filed new Rules and Regulations for Groundwater Quality (250-150-05-3) that took effect December 28, 2023.

Scientists are still learning about the health effects of PFAS, but many scientific studies have been published about PFAS exposure and health effects. These studies have largely shown that exposure to PFAS may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to higher cholesterol levels, lower infant birth weights, weakened immune response, and increased risk of some cancers, including kidney cancer, as well as interference with the body’s natural hormones. 

Infants and young children with developing immune systems, people who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or who may become pregnant, and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.  

Please see the Rhode Island Department of Health’s PFAS Health Effects Factsheet and general PFAS webpage for more information. 

Most exposure to PFAS comes from eating, drinking, or breathing. PFAS are not easily absorbed through the skin. PFAS is present in many consumer products and can be found in food and water sources due to pollution. People can be exposed by drinking water or eating food that contains PFAS and/or breathing air that has PFAS present. 

If your water is supplied by a public water system, you can ask your public water system or visit If you have a private well, RIDOH's Private Well Program can provide additional guidance on testing well water for PFAS

In addition to rulemaking, activities have included:  

  • Applied for and received EPA funding to conduct additional sampling of ambient surface water including rivers and other vulnerable waters in order to better understand the presence of PFAS chemicals in surface waters throughout the state. Sampling is being planned for 2024.
  • Begin to roll out inclusion of PFAS monitoring requirements in applicable RIPDES discharge permits
  • Ongoing participation in interagency committee and regional workgroups and discussions as related to PFAS including management of biosolids

Additional Resources