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URI to study impact of chemicals in drinking water

Chemicals known as PFAS -- per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances -- will be the focus of a new program at the University of Rhode Island. (WJAR)

Chemicals known as PFAS -- per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances -- will be the focus of a new program at the University of Rhode Island.

It’s a chemical that is largely found in people today. PFAS are used in waterproofing materials and are largely stable, but the problem remains that the chemicals last so long, they start to seep into places they shouldn’t be.

"When it actually is used in other areas, firefighting foams, they seep into the ground and ground water, wells, town water systems and evidence that they can lower mood systems to development issues in children," said Judith Swift of the Coastal Institute at URI.

The University of Rhode Island with the help of an $8 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health will be able to form a research program in partnership with scientists at Harvard and the Non-Silent Spring Institute to identify and reduce the risks of PFAS chemicals.

Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health from Harvard University, said PFAS are largely effecting the population in many ways.

"Drinking water may not be as safe, breast-feeding isn’t as beneficial as it should be, and vaccines may not work as well. Now we are working to do our best to figure out what they are doing and why, and this way we can do better prevention,” Grandjean explained.

The program is divided into three groups: professional training, public education and community engagement. Grandjean is part of a research group traveling to the Faroe Islands to study 500 children who they’ve been following for nearly a decade.

"We’re the research translation team out of The Coastal Institute and we take that science and translate it understandable for those who live in the communities where these concerns exist," Swift said.

They hope their findings will provide new evidence on the need to limit current exposures to the chemical and how to prevent further damage.

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