Tests Find Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water at Rhode Island Army Installations

WASHINGTON – Drinking water supplies at two Army installations in Rhode Island are contaminated with elevated levels of toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to newly released Department of Defense data obtained by EWG under the Freedom of Information Act.

The sites in Rhode Island are the Coventry Army National Guard Training Site, near Warwick, and the North Smithfield Army Guard Station, near Providence.

The detections occurred in 2017. Both sites were contaminated with multiple members of the class of toxic chemicals. Some PFAS have been linked at very low doses to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, thyroid and kidney disease, and other health problems.

Nationally, the data provided through the FOIA added 90 current and former Army and Army National Guard installations to the list of locations that are contaminated with PFAS chemicals. They raise the number of Army installations with known PFAS contamination of drinking water or groundwater from 18 to 108, and the total number of military installations with known contamination from 207 to 297.

Click here to see the complete list.

Neither of the newly listed Rhode Island sites was contaminated with levels of PFAS above the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, or ppt.

But the EPA’s advisory level is 70 times higher than the 1 ppt safe level found by some independent studies and endorsed by EWG. Some states have set limits ranging from 11 ppt to 20 ppt.

The levels of PFAS detected in drinking water at both installations were far higher than 1 ppt. At North Smithfield, tests found 20 ppt of PFAS, and at Coventry, 61.21 ppt.

Compounds detected in the drinking water at both locations included the two most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, once used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. Both were phased out under pressure from the EPA after studies found links to cancer, harm to the reproductive and immune systems, and other health problems.

PFAS chemicals have been detected in the drinking water of 19 million Americans in 49 states, and unreleased EPA data show that up to 110 million people may have PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

“The level of PFAS found in the drinking water at both Army installations is far higher than most experts believe is safe for people,” said EWG Senior VP for Government Affair Scott Faber. “Those service members who work at these facilities and the people who live nearby are likely drinking water contaminated with PFAS chemicals at concentrations that should raise serious health concerns. The only way to tackle the PFAS contamination crisis threatening military personnel and other Rhode Island residents is for Congress to step up and take action.”

In June, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which contains a number of critical PFAS monitoring and cleanup amendments. Included was one that requires the Pentagon to phase out, by 2023, the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam and require military facilities to meet state cleanup standards. 

In July the House passed its version of the act, with several PFAS amendments, including one that would designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law.

Negotiators from the House and Senate are hammering out a final version of the defense spending bill. EWG is pressing lawmakers to include all of the PFAS amendments in the bill Congress sends to President Trump for his consideration.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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