Researchers, state officials to answer questions about safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water

The Haw River at the Bynum Bridge, where elevated concentrations of 1,4-Dioxane and PFAS have been detected. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

State officials and university researchers will answer questions on Wednesday about the safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water, which contains elevated levels of  1,4-Dioxane and perfluorinated compounds (PFAS), known to harm human health. None of the compounds, of which there are thousands, are regulated by the EPA.

The panelists will share study data, discuss the health risks associated with drinking the water, and answer questions about how the state is addressing the contamination statewide. The event is sponsored by the Haw River Assembly.

  • Dr. Heather Stapleton, environmental chemist, Duke University
  • Dr. Detlef Knappe, proessor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, NC State University
  • Dr. Jamie Bangma, environmental toxicologist, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, NC Department of Human Health Services
  • Julie Grzyb, permitting officer, NC Department of Environmental Quality

For nearly a decade, Haw River Assembly has been working with academic researchers, local and state agency staff, and affected communities to document and raise awareness around the issue of industrial contaminants in drinking water.

Public meeting about Pittsboro
drinking water
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 6-8 pm
Chatham County Agricultural and Conference Center
1192 US Highway 64 Business W, Pittsboro

University and EPA researchers found 1,4-Dioxane and several types of PFAS in the Haw River and other state waterways more than five years ago. DEQ tested the Haw River near Bynum last year, and found total concentrations of PFAS in raw water ranging from 926 parts per trillion to 1,981 ppt.

North Carolina Health News reported earlier this summer that Pittsboro had failed to notify residents of PFAS contamination in treated water flowing from their taps. Those concentrations, detected in October 2018, ranged from 17.7 ppt to 109.3 ppt.

DEQ and state health officials have recommended that people not drink water containing more than 10 ppt of a single compound or more than 70 ppt in total.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Governor’s office agrees to allow employees to publicly answer lawmakers’ questions about Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The segments in red indicate where construction on the pipeline was to begin in 2018; construction scheduled for 2019 along the segment is in blue. Legal challenges have halted the $8 billion project co-owned primarily by Duke Energy and Dominion. (Map: Atlantic Coast Pipeline)

Employees from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office soon could publicly testify before lawmakers about details of a voluntary $57.8 million mitigation fund involving the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The employees could appear before a subcommittee as early as the week of Nov. 4.

If built, the ACP would started at a fracked natural gas operation in West Virginia, traverse through Virginia and enter North Carolina in Northampton County before continuing 160 miles through the eastern part of the state. Tens of thousands of people oppose the project because it would harm waterways, wildlife habitats and air quality, as well as raise environmental justice issues. Many of the communities along the route are largely Black or American Indian, and low-income. 

These pipelines also leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major driver of climate change.

In January 2018, Cooper announced his office had brokered a deal that would require Dominion and Duke Energy, the majority co-owners of the natural gas project, to pay into a mitigation fund to help renewable energy and economic development projects in eastern North Carolina.

With two hours of the governor’s announcement, the state Department of Environmental Quality released a statement saying it had granted a key water quality permit that would allow the project to proceed. DEQ had delayed issuing the permit, known as a 401, for several months as it requested more information from Duke and Dominion.

The timing of the two announcements raised suspicions from some lawmakers and ACP opponents — who are rarely on the same side — that the permit approval was contingent upon the $57.8 million fund. Both DEQ and Gov. Cooper have repeatedly denied their respective offices coordinated such an arrangement.

Virginia cut a similar deal, but it was between state environmental regulators and the utilities; it was also binding.

North Carolina lawmakers subsequently hired Eagle Intel, an independent firm composed of former IRS investigators, to look into how the deal was struck.

Last Friday, un an acrimonious exchange of letters, Republicans Sen. Harry Brown and Rep. Dean Arp complained that the governor had instructed some employees “not to cooperate” with Eagle Intel.  Brown and Arp offered to allow the employees to answer questions from the Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline about the governor’s “participation in the ACP permitting process,” as well as inquiries regarding the fund between the executive branch, the solar industry and Duke Energy.

Kristi Jones, the governor’s chief of staff, responded that employees would answer lawmakers’ questions, but only publicly, and not privately, as lawmakers had originally requested. “The fact you intend to inquire about the propriety of the funds paid by Duke is hypocritical at best, given that you have already appropriated those funds. Clearly, you did not believe a mitigation fund was inappropriate. You simply want to control it.”

When Republicans had veto-proof control of both the House and Senate, lawmakers passed legislation redirecting the funds to public school districts along the ACP route. However, no funds have been disbursed because they are to be apportioned in stages, including when the pipeline begins operating.  Legal challenges have halted construction for nearly a year. Recently the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from the utilities, which are contesting a federal appellate court decision to revoke a US Forest Service permit allowing it to cross the Appalachian Trail.


Letter From Arp Brown on ACP Investigators Hearing (Text)

Letter From KristiJones to Arp Brown (Text)

Environment, News

BREAKING: New analysis indicates that toxics were present in Wilmington drinking water at extreme levels

Tests of samples collected between 2014 and 2016 reveal sky-high PFAS readings

Astronomical concentrations of toxic compounds commonly known as PFAS were present in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, years before researchers had the technology to detect them.

According to a new analysis of preserved samples from 2014 to 2016, PFAS that contain an ether molecule were found at concentrations of at least as high as 130,000 parts per trillion near Lock and Dam No. 1, near the drinking water intake for the City of Wilmington. The contamination originated at the Chemours/DuPont facility more than 80 miles upstream.

The samples at Lock and Dam No. 1 were taken in 2015 near by NC State and EPA researchers. But only now, with advanced technology, can scientists more accurately measure the concentrations of PFAS in water.

The newly detected compounds are among the 5,000 types of PFAS. For this study, researchers broaden the scope of their search and discovered 11 that contained ether molecules. These include PFMOAA and Nation Byproduct 2. PFMOAA composed the greatest percentage of the ether subtypes contamination, with 110,000 ppt.

Since traditional water treatment methods can’t remove these compounds, they would have been present in drinking water that flowed from taps in tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

Prof. Detlef Knappe – Image N.C. State

“That’s the best estimate of what people in Wilmington were drinking for 37 years prior,” NC State professor and scientist Detlef Knappe told Policy Watch.

By comparison, state health and environmental officials have recommended that no one should drink water with levels of PFAS of any type above 70 ppt combined or above 10 ppt for a single compound.

The research team of NC State professor Detlef Knappe, graduate students Chuhui Zhang, Zachary Hopkins and James McCord, and Mark Strynar of the EPA in Research Triangle Park, published their findings this month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The research was partially funded by the NC Policy Collaboratory.

Chemours, which until 2015 was DuPont, discharged these perfluorinated and poly-fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River in its wastewater. The discharge contaminated the public drinking water supplies of people living downstream, as well as private wells that tap groundwater for drinking.

Chemours had not reviewed the research team’s findings by the Policy Watch deadline, and declined to comment. 

Vaughn Hagerty, spokesman for the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority issued a statement:

“We’re grateful for researchers such as Dr. Knappe, whose work continues to provide a more complete picture of how Chemours and DuPont chose to operate before regulators stepped in.

As troubling as these numbers are, they also may help explain a number of things, such as why we find still PFAS from Chemours and DuPont in raw and finished water we have analyzed. Or why we find their PFAS in our groundwater here in New Hanover County. Or the staggering concentrations of their PFAS in the groundwater under the Fayetteville Works, groundwater that regulators say migrates to the Cape Fear River. Or why researchers are confident that PFAS is in the miles of river sediment between the Fayetteville Works and our raw water intake.

Before the public outrage and regulatory scrutiny began in June 2017, the only thing Chemours said was done to address their PFAS discharges was “additional water emissions abatement technology” they said was added in November 2013 – after researchers found GenX in the Cape Fear. The 130,000-parts-per-trillion sample mentioned by Dr. Knappe was taken in 2014.

And, more to the point, I haven’t seen anything that indicates either Chemours or DuPont planned to do more after November 2013.

We’ve already spent millions of dollars to deal with their actions and we’re embarking on a $43 million project to add new granular activate carbon filters at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant to reduce PFAS. We’ll spend another $2.9 million a year to operate those enhancements.

Chemours speaks about its commitment to sustainability and the equipment it’s adding at the Fayetteville Works to address its PFAS releases. OK. But, look, if your kid has broken windows all over the neighborhood while hitting baseballs over the past few years, you haven’t solved the problem by simply getting her a batting cage. You still have to pay to fix all of those broken windows.”

Chemours ostensibly stopped discharging PFAS, including GenX, into the Cape Fear River in 2018, months after the Department of Environmental Quality revoked its permit. In April 2018, DEQ asked a Bladen County judge to intervene.

Sharon Martin, DEQ spokeswoman also released a statement: Read more


Expert panel: Firefighters have “unacceptably high levels” of PFAS in their blood

(Source: Adobe stock)

Firefighters who use foams made with toxic perfluorinated chemicals — PFAS — have “unacceptably” high levels in their blood, according to an international scientific review released yesterday.

The Environmental Working Group announced the results, which were published by a panel scientists and engineers hired by IPEN, a global network of public interest groups, to study the issue.

Perfluorinated compounds, of which there are thousands of types, have been linked to some cancers, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy and other health problems.

The panel reviewed the scientific literature and determined that two types of PFAS — PFOS and PFHxS —were detected in the blood of the firefighters. Both are toxic, but PFHxS is lesser known than PFOS. 

Yet PFHxS is “extremely persistent, exhibits long-range transport, it is more bio-accumulative and hazardous in humans than PFOS,” the study said.

Firefighters can be exposed to these compounds not only from the foams, but from their personal protective equipment.

The National Defense Authorization Act would ban the use of the foams by 2023. President Trump has threatened to veto any bills that contain the prohibition.

The EPA has yet to regulate PFAS, but recently announced it is considering adding it to the list of contaminants that are reportable under the Toxics Release Inventory. The TRI tracks the discharge and emissions of hundreds of chemicals and compounds at thousands of facilities nationwide. However, the data is self-reported by industry. and the reporting itself is voluntary.

Workers in other industries can also be exposed to high levels of PFAS. In 2002, DuPont, now Chemours, tested the blood of 33 of its employees and found several had higher than normal levels of PFOA.

PFAS have also been widely found in drinking water, both in North Carolina and globally.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Senate Bill 433, a mish-mash of various items, has new language directing the NC Policy Collaboratory to compile a statewide inventory of governments and airports that use firefighting foam containing PFAS.

It is scheduled to be heard by the full House today at 1:30.

The bill also tasks the Collaboratory to assess the cost and volume of the firefighting foams, as well as how much of it is unused and could be disposed of. Since PFAS are unregulated by the EPA, it’s unclear how they would be disposed of. Chemours has shipped its GenX, a type of PFAS, to Texas and Arkansas for either deep-well injection or incineration.

Earlier this session two bipartisan bills, SB 655 and HB 560, would have banned the use, sale, manufacture and discharge of firefighting foams that contained PFAS. Those measures stalled in committee and never received a hearing.

This story has been corrected to reflect that facilities self-report their emissions to the Toxics Release Inventory, but it is required, not voluntary.


Levels of cancer-causing 1,4-Dioxane rise in Cape Fear River, drinking water

The orange circles indicate detections of 1,4-Dioxane in surface water. The larger the circle, the greater the median concentration. The Haw River near Jordan Lake, for example, has recorded a median level of 11 parts per billion, while detections in the Deep River near Asheboro have reached at least 96 ppb. (Map: DEQ)

Levels of 1,4-Dioxane, a known carcinogen, have again increased in the Cape Fear River, and  the precise source of the contamination is still unknown.

Results released by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority show levels of the compound in untreated water at the Sweeney plant reached 6.3 parts per trillion on Sept. 10; in finished water, the levels dropped to 1.3 ppt.

Levels of 1,4-Dioxane in raw and treated water at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s Sweeney plant (Graph: CFPUA)

The EPA’s unenforceable health advisory goal is 0.35 parts per billion — or 350 ppt. The agency does not regulate 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water.

CFPUA’s recent figures are higher than those recorded in August, when the levels were 0.76 ppt in raw water and 0.19 ppt in finished water.

The precise source of the contamination is unknown, a utility spokesman said. Several industrial plants discharge 1,4-Dioxane into the Cape Fear, including DAK Americas in Fayetteville, Invista in Wilmington and other industries farther upstream.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority tests for 1,4-Dioxane monthly. The utility has implemented advanced treatment systems to remove as much of the contaminant as possible; however, 1,4-Dioxane is extremely difficult for water treatment plants to remove.

Last month the utility submitted comments to the EPA, which is conducting a draft risk evaluation for  1,4-Dioxane. The EPA decided to exclude exposures to the general population, including children, in assessing 1,4-Dioxane’s risks. The agency reasoned that existing statutes like the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, address the risks — a justification that the utility disagrees with.

“CFPUA is particularly concerned with EPA’s decision to exclude from its assessment exposures to the general population, including children” wrote the utility’s executive director Jim Flechtner. “… Our experience at CFPU leads us to conclude that, contrary to EPA’s assertion otherwise, these statutes are neither ‘adequate’ nor ‘effective’ in managing risks to the general public from exposure to 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.”

Levels of GenX have also recently increased in finished water, according to weekly sampling data, from 8.6 ppt on July 2 to 18.2 ppt on Aug. 29. Those numbers are still below the peaks of 30 ppt to 40 ppt, recorded in 2018 before Chemours said it stopped accidentally spilling or intentionally discharging the compound into the river.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services has set a health advisory goal of 140 ppt for GenX.

Concentrations of two perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS, have remained steady, ranging from a combined total of 3 ppt to 5.5 ppt in finished water. The EPA health goal is 70 ppt for both compounds combined, while state regulators have also recommended that people should not drink water containing any individual perfluorinated compound at 10 ppt or greater.

However, 13 other types of perfluorinated compounds have been detected in the utility’s finished water, and six of them exceed the state’s recommended threshold.