NORTH CAROLINA — Preliminary data released last month by scientists at seven North Carolina universities showed the highest levels of ‘forever chemicals’, known as PFAS, were observed at the Cape Fear region’s main raw water supply at the Kings Bluff pump station on the Cape Fear River. The high level was attributed to PFAS chemicals coming from discharges at the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant.
The team of scientists measured a total PFAS level of 425.5 parts per trillion (ppt) at the station, only two points higher than the nearby Bladen Bluffs station — which only serves the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel — but nearly double the third-highest level found in Harnett County. (It is important to note that these numbers only included the study’s first round of testing; a second round is in progress, which identified a preliminary PFAS level of 804.9 at Pittsboro’s water source.)
The pumps at Kings Bluff supplies water to roughly 350,000 people in New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties. The study measured untreated, raw water.
According to the FDA, there are nearly 5,000 types of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are referred to as forever chemicals because of their inability to naturally break down once they are released into the environment. They are man-made chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, and GenX and have been used for U.S. manufacturing since the 1940s.
Currently, only several PFAS chemicals have official ‘health advisory’ levels — and even these are guidelines, not enforceable regulations. Further, while researchers believe PFAS chemicals may impact the human body in similar ways, there’s limited research on what cumulative effects of multiple PFAS might be.
In other words, it’s not clear if drinking water with 10 ppt each of two separate chemicals is more toxic, less toxic, or the same as ingesting water with 20 ppt of a single chemical.
The scientists’ first round of sampling was conducted at 405 sites across the state, according to Duke University chemist Dr. Lee Ferguson, who along with Dr. Detlef Knappe at N.C. State University generated the data set.
“This was essentially every municipal water supply as well as some county water supplies across the state,” Ferguson said.
State lawmakers funded the creation of the NC PFAS Testing Network — a collaboration of scientists from Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Wilmington, NC State, UNC-Charlotte, ECU, and NC A&T — to address the presence of the toxic chemicals in the state’s drinking water. The group was charged with measuring concentrations of known PFAS compounds and also surveying for a…