Lisa Rider of Coastal Carolina Riverwatch collects water samples to test for PFAS in Bogue Sound off of Bogue Field in 2022. (Contributed photo)


RALEIGH — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Tuesday a proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known to occur in drinking water. 

According to a news release from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the EPA is proposing an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS, at 4 parts per trillion (ppt), a level that can be reliably measured by most labs.

The proposed rule would also regulate GenX chemicals, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFBS through the use of a Hazard Index calculation to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk to human health. Once the proposed EPA rule becomes final, public water systems will have three years to comply with the regulation. According to the release, DEQ has been working with public water systems to prepare for the proposed regulation and assess PFAS levels in drinking water systems across the state. Under the Action Strategy for PFAS, DEQ is taking a whole-of-department approach to protect communities by identifying, reducing and remediating PFAS pollution. DEQ is also utilizing federal funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help address PFAS contamination, including funding designated specifically for small, rural and underserved communities.

PFAS have caused severe problems in the Wilmington area for years, and concerns have been raised about the White Oak River and other waters in and near Carteret County.

“North Carolina has been leading efforts to address forever chemicals in our drinking water, and today’s EPA announcement provides additional federal support and a roadmap for the public water systems in our state,” DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said in the news release. “Having clear direction on national drinking water standards supports DEQ’s work with public water systems to protect the people of North Carolina.”

In late 2022, DEQ performed three months of sampling at 50 municipal and county water systems identified in the 2019 PFAST Network study with PFOA/PFOS detections above the minimum reporting level indicated by the 2022 EPA interim health advisories or GenX above 10 ppt. DEQ is actively working with the systems on next steps and providing technical assistance. 

Some public water systems in North Carolina are currently monitoring for PFAS voluntarily. DEQ is also implementing plans to sample hundreds of smaller water systems that may not have that capability to better assess the levels of PFAS on a statewide basis. DEQ recommends that public water systems share their PFAS results with customers, the release states. 

GenX, a specific PFAS, has been a major problem in waters in the Cape Fear/Wilmington area for years, because of a Fayetteville plant that discharged upstream into the Cape Fear River, which is the drinking supply for more than 250,000 people. The problem was discovered in 2017.

However, on Oct. 22, 2022, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority announced that after a $43 million CFPUA project, “The water running from the taps in many Wilmington-area homes served by Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is now virtually free of the PFAS compounds, including GenX.”

According to the release, DEQ has taken several actions to better identify PFAS sources and reduce emissions and discharges:

* Requiring PFAS information from new facilities and industries and developing permit conditions as appropriate throughout the state. 

* Inventorying and prioritizing locations for additional assessment where these substances may have been manufactured, used, discharged or disposed. 

* Adding permit conditions as appropriate to address PFAS air emissions, waste generation or wastewater discharges and require disclosure of data and additional monitoring. 

* Conducting groundwater testing and additional monitoring in areas with known or suspected PFAS contamination. 

* Requiring all solid waste sanitary landfills to include PFAS analyses of all regular groundwater, surface water and leachate samples.   

DEQ continues to gather data to support setting regulatory standards and to provide technical assistance to facilities to reduce future PFAS pollution, the release adds.

DEQ urges anyone with concerns about their public water source to contact their water provider.

The release states anyone concerned about the level of PFAS in their drinking water, whether on a private well or public water system, might consider adding filtration to reduce the amount of PFAS consumed. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a list of filtration options, from whole house or under sink systems to pitcher of fridge filters with information on their effectiveness.

Morehead City-based Coastal Carolina Riverwatch and its White Oak River Waterkeeper, Riley Lewis, have been participating in a statewide PFAS study in surface waters downstream of potential PFAS sources.

PFAS are used in non-stick cookware, stain repellent, waterproof coatings, firefighting foam and many other manufacturing processes. Many call them “forever chemicals.” Some PFAS have been classified as possible human carcinogens.

 According to the EPA, known sources of PFAS include:

* Soil and Water at, near and downstream of landfills.

Facilities that use firefighting foam.

* PFAS Manufacturing Facilities.

* Food Contaminated by PFAS (fish, livestock).

* Biosolids from wastewater treatment plants.

* Drinking water and surface waters.


Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.


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