CARTERET COUNTY — North Carolina officials have created a research program to examine the potential effects of a class of chemicals that may be present in ground and drinking water throughout the state, while an investigation into the presence of the chemicals here in the county is ongoing.   

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, have become the subject of state and nationwide concern as research has shown exposure to the chemicals can have adverse health effects. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which developed a PFAS action plan earlier this year to address the problem, the man-made chemicals can be found in a wide range of consumer and industrial products.

The EPA says studies have shown long-term exposure to the chemicals, whether through drinking water or another source, is linked to certain cancers and fertility problems, among other adverse health effects. The EPA has stated the goal of proposing a “regulatory determination” for the chemicals by the end of this year to establish new limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Concern over PFAS mounted in North Carolina in 2017 when it was discovered that one of these compounds known as GenX is present in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington in relatively high concentrations. In response to the growing worry over PFAS, the N.C. General Assembly mandated the chemicals be studied more in depth.

The N.C. PFAS Testing Network was launched in 2018 as a multi-university collaborative project to study the environmental and human health impacts of PFAS. Researchers are in the process of taking water and air samples throughout the state to determine current PFAS levels.

The collaborative will also examine the health effects of PFAS, study bioaccumulation of the chemicals in crops and aquatic environments and test new technologies to remove PFAS from the environment. Further, a team has been set up to develop models that predict which private water wells are most at risk of PFAS contamination.

According to the PFAS Testing Network, several sites in Carteret County have been tested or are scheduled to be tested. So far, all the samples have shown very low to nonexistent levels of PFAS in the drinking water.

Also in the county, there is a separate investigation underway by the U.S. Navy into the presence of PFAS in drinking well water near Marine Corps Outlying Landing Field Atlantic. The Navy started the voluntary sampling program in 2017 “out of an abundance of caution” because PFAS chemicals may have been present in firefighting foam historically used by the Navy at installations across the country.

The Navy wrapped up the well sampling program late last year. Out of 269 wells that were tested, several were found to have PFAS present in the drinking water and two wells had concentrations of the chemicals above the EPA’s lifetime health advisory standard of 70 parts per trillion.  

At least one Atlantic resident whose well was found to contain the chemicals has been provided bottled water by the Navy for more than a year.

A Navy spokesperson said recently there are no updates on the investigation, other than it is still underway. Although officials say records show the chemicals were not used at MCOLF Atlantic, they will carry out interviews, record checks and other action to help determine the source of PFAS in local wells.

More information about the Navy well sampling program in Atlantic can be found at go.usa.gov/xR6SX or secnav.navy.mil/eie/pages/pfc-pfas.aspx. For specific questions or concerns, contact the MCOLF Atlantic public affairs office at 1-877-626-5317 or email NavyAtlanticWater@usmc.mil.

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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