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Saturday, May 18, 2024

NCDEQ launches new fund to support contaminated wells

NCDEQ last year tested 50 municipal water systems statewide and found 42 of them have levels of PFOS and PFOA that exceed the current health advisory levels. (Courtesy NCDEQ)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The state, leading the way on PFAS pollution, is launching a pilot program to support residents with contaminated drinking water.

The Bernard Allen Emergency Drinking Water Fund will provide money for treatment systems to eligible residents with PFAS contamination that equals or exceeds health advisory levels within private drinking water wells.

Launched by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the program is intended to address PFAS pollution for families where no designated responsible party is providing alternative water sources.

Chemours, chemical company located 70 miles upstream, has been dumping toxic pollutants into the Cape Fear River for decades. In 2019, the company entered into a consent order with NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, requiring them to provide alternate drinking water to private well owners with pollution exceeding current healthy advisory standards. But it only applies to residents in counties downstream from Fayetteville Works.

The Environmental Protection Agency released an advisory last June setting GenX to 10 parts per trillion, down from 140 ppt prior. On March 14, 2023, EPA announced proposed national primary drinking water regulations for six PFAS, anticipated to be in effect by the end of the year.

The Bernard Allen program will provide treatment systems to residents statewide who meet certain criteria.

“Addressing PFAS is a priority for DEQ and we have made great strides to ensure North Carolinians are better informed and better protected,” Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said in a press release. “PFAS is a statewide issue, and we are taking a whole of department approach, guided by our Action Strategy, to restrict, research, and remediate these forever chemicals in our state.” 

In June 2022, NCDEQ released its action strategy for PFAS, building on the state’s work addressing PFAS contamination. The same month, NCDEQ sampled 50 municipal and county water systems over three months and found 42 of them, serving more than 3 million people, have PFOA and PFOS above the proposed maximum contaminant levels. The entity is working with the systems to determine options for treatment, reduction or alternate water sources, though costs are estimated between $661 million and $1.3 billion to address.

Another 655 smaller systems, including schools and daycares, are being sampled while NCDEQ assesses the best way to assist public water systems with federal funding.

NCDEQ also established the applied science fellowship, in partnership with the NC Collaboratory to increase academic research on PFAS.

Thursday, NCDEQ completed its review of the latest scientific information released by EPA and plans to develop new groundwater and surface water standards for the state in the coming months.

Ongoing work under the action strategy includes new permit conditions to address PFAS air emissions or wastewater discharges, disclosure of all data and additional monitoring and requiring all solid waste sanitary landfills include PFAS analyses of regular groundwater.

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