In recent years, high levels of PFAS have been discovered in some drinking water systems in North Carolina. Photo: NIEHS

In recent years, high levels of PFAS have been discovered in some drinking water systems in North Carolina. Photo: NIEHS
The state has taken measures to address the high levels of PFAS detected in some drinking water systems in North Carolina. Photo: NIEHS

This week seven years ago, residents in the Cape Fear region learned that their drinking water supply was contaminated with GenX, a type of PFAS being released into the river by the Chemours facility, a DuPont spinoff near Fayetteville.

In the time since, the state has taken steps to manage per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also called emerging compounds, which have been linked to health effects in humans and animals.

To highlight these ongoing efforts, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office has proclaimed June 3-7 as PFAS Awareness Week.

“North Carolinians deserve clean water and we must be at the forefront of the fight to contain forever chemicals,” Cooper said Friday. “We are holding polluters accountable, researching solutions, and working hard to protect people’s health.”

PFAS is a group of human-made chemicals that has been used for decades in commercial and consumer products such as food packaging, water- and stain-repellent fabrics, nonstick products and firefighting foams, as well as industrial processes and manufacturing.

These pervasive compounds detected in household and industrial waste, air emissions and wastewater discharges are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and can build up in humans and animals.

North Carolina’s departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services began investigating GenX, when Wilmington StarNews broke the story June 7, 2017, that N.C. State University researchers discovered the chemicals int he Cape Fear River basin. The state’s investigation identified the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility as the producer of GenX.

In 2019, the state, Chemours, and the nonprofit Cape Fear River Watch signed a consent order requiring Chemours to address PFAS sources and contamination at the facility to prevent further impacts to air, soil, groundwater and surface water.

NCDEQ ordered significant additional actions by Chemours to prevent PFAS pollution from entering the Cape Fear River in the Addendum to the Consent Order released in August 2020.

On Nov. 3, 2021, the state determined that Chemours was responsible for contamination of groundwater monitoring wells and water supply wells in New Hanover County and potentially Pender, Columbus, and Brunswick counties, and expanded the consent order to include these downstream communities.

On March 28, 2022, NCDEQ required Chemours expand the sampling and drinking water plan.

NCDEQ released its action strategy June 7, 2022, to address PFAS and on June 7, 2023, updated the plan to fund remediation efforts for eligible residents with PFAS contamination.

The Biden-Harris Administration announced in April the first-ever national limit on PFAS in drinking water.

“Based on all available data, more than 300 water systems in our state have PFAS levels that will exceed the new standards. That includes 42 municipal water systems serving nearly 3 million residents combined, as well as approximately 20% of small public water systems tested,” according to the state.

Cooper’s office notes in the press release that his 2024 budget proposal includes a $100 million fund to help communities clean their water from pollutants such as PFAS.

Related: Totals on PFAS-contaminated utilities ‘coming down daily’

In early May, NCDEQ requested the Environmental Management Commission begin rulemaking on PFAS groundwater and surface water standards, which would limit the amount of PFAS that companies can discharge. This commission adopts rules for “protection, preservation, and enhancement of the water and air resources of the State.”

Reducing discharges of PFAS into North Carolina’s state water supplies is the most cost-effective way to meet the new drinking water standards, according to the state.

“Despite these calls to begin regulating PFAS, the EMC has stalled efforts amid lobbying by the NC Chamber of Commerce, whose members include chemical companies,” the governor’s office said. “Republican legislators seized control of the EMC in 2023 through legislation it passed over the Governor’s veto that continues to be litigated in the courts. The EMC’s move to delay anti-pollution rules intended to protect drinking water from PFAS contamination mirrored lobbying from the NC Chamber on behalf of its members. Recent reporting shows that members of the EMC own stock in companies that belong to the Chamber and lobbied to oppose PFAS regulation.”

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Credit: Original content published here.

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