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Posted on: January 30, 2019

CFPUA: Enforceable drinking water standards needed for PFAS

Water quality

CFPUA encourages development of appropriate and enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS compounds. The lack of such standards creates significant uncertainty for regulatory agencies, utilities such as the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and, importantly, the people those agencies serve.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing a management plan for PFAS compounds that could consider new drinking water standards for some substances.

In 2016, EPA established a drinking water health advisory for two PFAS compounds: PFOA and PFOS. The advisory, for lifetime exposure, is 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for the PFOA and PFOS, either separately or in combination. The advisory, however, is informational rather than regulatory: It is not enforceable.

PFOA and PFOS, like GenX, are among thousands of compounds that belong to a larger group called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

A number of states have developed their own health advisories for some PFAS compounds. North Carolina has set a nonregulatory health goal of 140 ppt for lifetime exposure to GenX in drinking water.

Meanwhile, CFPUA continues to test for a variety of PFAS compounds at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant, where it treats water drawn from the Cape Fear River. That monitoring continued uninterrupted during the federal government shutdown.

Those compounds include PFOA, PFOS and GenX. Results in finished drinking water sampled Dec. 26 showed concentrations for each of those three were below 4 parts per trillion.

Unlike the EPA or North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, CFPUA is not a regulatory agency, so it cannot set enforceable limits.

Nevertheless, CFPUA can take steps to try to limit the PFAS compounds in the drinking water produced at Sweeney – PFAS compounds that wind up in the Cape Fear River largely because of what happens upriver at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility.

CFPUA already has begun an interim program to change out existing granular activated carbon filters at Sweeney. The first phase of that work was completed in December and was effective at reducing levels of PFAS. The second phase will start this spring.

Planning is nearing completion for a permanent solution: a $46 million upgrade that will add additional, deeper GAC filters to Sweeney, significantly enhancing its ability to remove PFAS from drinking water. The CFPUA board will consider final plans later this year.

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