On June 27, 2022, Rhode Island passed two new laws into effect that regulate six types of PFAS in food packaging, drinking water, ground water, surface waters, and landfills. These laws place stringent requirements on companies doing business in Rhode Island and open the door to regulatory agency enforcement action in the state of Rhode Island. In addition, the Rhode Island PFAS regulations mean that companies that have not already done so absolutely must assess both past and current PFAS uses and risks that the new laws present. Failing to do so could result in costly remediation efforts, lawsuits, and the need to quickly change manufacturing or other industrial processes to minimize risk.
Rhode Island PFAS Regulations
The first law passed into effect was (H7223/S2298), known as the “PFAS In Drinking Water, Groundwater and Surface Waters” law. Of note, the law sets an interim drinking water standard for the state of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for six specific PFAS – PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. Under the law, water suppliers must, by July 1, 2023, test water supplies for the regulated PFAS. If any of the six PFAS, or any combination thereof, are detected in excess of 20 ppt, the water company must begin quarterly testing and provide potable water to all users of the water system until testing shows quantities of the regulated PFAS below 20 ppt.
In addition, the new law requires the Rhode Island Department of Health to set permanent standards for PFAS in drinking water by 2024. The permanent standards can be set for PFAS as an entire class or any subclass. It also requires the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to set standards for PFAS in ground water and surface water by December 31, 2023, as well as landfill standards by December 31, 2022. Finally, by November 1, 2023, the Department of Environmental Management must submit a plan for a statewide plan into potential sources of PFAS pollution.
The second law that was enacted was H7438A/S2044A, known as the Toxic Packaging Reduction Act. The law prohibits, as of January 1, 2024, the sale or promotional distribution of any food packaging that contains intentionally added PFAS in the state of Rhode Island.
Implications To Businesses
It is of the utmost importance for businesses along the whole supply chain to evaluate their PFAS risk. Public health and environmental groups urge legislators to regulate these compounds. One major point of contention among members of various industries is whether to regulate PFAS as a class or as individual compounds. While each PFAS compound has a unique chemical makeup and impacts the environment and the human body in different ways, some groups argue PFAS should be regulated together as a class because they interact with each other in the body, thereby resulting in a collective impact. Other groups argue that the individual compounds are too diverse and that regulating them as a class would be over restrictive for some chemicals and not restrictive enough for others. The Rhode Island PFAS regulations grant the ability to regulate PFAS as an entire class, which is a decision that would surely spark much debate and opposition within the state.
Companies should remain informed so they do not get caught off guard. Regulators at both the state and federal level are setting drinking water standards and notice requirements of varying stringency, and states are increasingly passing PFAS product bills that differ in scope. For any manufacturers, especially those who sell goods interstate, it is important to understand how those various standards will impact them, whether PFAS is regulated as individual compounds or as a class. Conducting regular self-audits for possible exposure to PFAS risk and potential regulatory violations can result in long term savings for companies and should be commonplace in their own risk assessment.