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EPA Announces Standards For PFAS Regulation

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Apr 10, 2024
EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces federal standards for PFAS in drinking water during a news conference Wednesday in Fayetteville. (Photo by Faith Hatton/Greater Fayetteville Business Journal)
About 100 miles up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington, Environmental Protection Agency officials announced on Wednesday the agency's first-ever standard for PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” in drinking water.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, traveled to Fayetteville to announce the EPA’s newly established and legally enforceable guideline for PFAS in drinking water.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals that have polluted the area's drinking water supply in the Cape Fear River. The presence of PFAS is a problem across the country, officials said. Studies are still being done to determine how PFAS impacts human health through prolonged exposure.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the final National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for GenX and certain other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS),” Cape Fear Public Utility Authority officials said in a statement Wednesday.

The EPA did not have a standard for PFAS levels in drinking water before Wednesday’s announcement. Under the first national drinking water standard for PFAS, public water utilities must now test for six different types of PFAS in drinking water to ensure levels are less than 4 parts per trillion.

“CFPUA’s new GAC [granular activated carbon] facility meets and exceeds the new standards, including those for Chemours’ GenX compound,” CFPUA officials said about the utility's filters that went into effect in 2022. “Concentrations are well below all of the NPDWR’s enforceable standards for drinking water, including the 10 parts per trillion maximum contaminant level for GenX and the 4 parts per trillion maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFOS.”

Upriver from Wilmington, Fayetteville is the site of the Fayetteville Works plant, which is the epicenter of the contamination of the Cape Fear River basin, according to CFPUA. The Cape Fear River supplies drinking water for 1 million people in the Wilmington region.

These new regulations are one part of the Biden Administration’s government-wide action plan launched in 2021 to mitigate PFAS pollution. The EPA plans to add nearly $1 billion to its $9 billion in funding to help affected areas test and treat contaminated water, according to Wednesday's announcement.

Wednesday’s announcement comes after multiple lawsuits were filed against two companies manufacturing products at the Fayetteville Works plant: The Chemours Co. and DuPont.

Chemours officials wrote in a statement emailed to the Business Journal on Wednesday that its team has concerns with the science used to develop its Maximum Containment Levels (MCLs) for its PFAS standards.

"Chemours is aware of the announcement by the U.S. EPA. While we will review the final regulation, we have serious concerns with the underlying science used and the process EPA followed in developing the MCLs, including as commented to EPA by various parties. Chemours supports government regulation that is grounded in the best available science and follows the law," reads the statement.

Of the many lawsuits Chemours and DuPont face, CFPUA filed a still-pending suit in 2017 against the two companies to regain funds used to install the $43 million granular activated carbon filters in the local utility's  Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

"Chemours has taken numerous steps to proactively address legacy constituents including installation of emissions control technologies, implementation of offsite drinking water programs, and the comprehensive settlement to resolve all PFAS-related drinking water claims of a defined class of U.S. water systems, which received final court approval on Feb. 8, 2024," Chemours officials said Wednesday. "At our Fayetteville site we have taken a broad set of actions to eliminate almost all PFAS discharges. Our remediation activity and emissions control technologies are grounded in the best available science and proven approaches, and we are proud of the investments we’ve made. In fact, we know of no other company in North Carolina that has made such a significant investment to address emissions and legacy remediation."

Under the new federal regulations, public water systems must monitor for PFAS chemicals and take action to reduce the levels of chemicals in the water if they exceed the maximum levels, according to the release. Public drinking water systems have three years to complete initial monitoring and five years to implement solutions to reduce PFAS levels if they are too high.

CFPUA was used as an example of how to treat affected water systems due to its implementation of the GAC filters. The White House release referenced Wilmington as “one of the communities most heavily impacted by PFAS contamination.” 

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to deadly cancers, negative liver and heart effects and defects in children causing both immune and developmental damage, according to the EPA’s release.

Brunswick County, New Hanover County and Cumberland County — where Fayetteville Works is — have also filed suits against Chemours and DuPont. Brunswick’s suit was consolidated with CFPUA’s, and New Hanover’s was consolidated with several suits that included companies manufacturing firefighting foam containing PFAS.

“Today’s announcement by the EPA validates the foresight and wisdom of our community leaders, who six years ago recognized the need to remove Chemours-sourced PFAS contamination from our water,” CFPUA officials said. 
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