Cities, local water suppliers have 5 years to address forever chemicals in drinking water

Roughly half of North and South Carolina’s water systems must be compliance after the EPA announced its first regulatory rules for a class of manmade chemicals called PFAS.

Biden administration sets first-ever limits on 'forever chemicals' in drinking water

The chemicals, often found in cookware, waterproof clothing, industrial runoff and firefighting foam, are associated with higher risks of cancer, particularly in the liver and thyroid. The EPA considers some of the compounds so dangerous they’re unsafe at minimally detectable levels. Under the new standards, PFOA and PFOS are limited to four parts per trillion and a suite of chemicals known as Gen X are limited to 10 parts per trillion, concentrations so small it’s like 4/10 drops of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Water systems have five years to come into compliance.

Cam Coley, a spokesman for Charlotte Water, said the city lab has been testing for those levels for more than five years and so far, the city supply has tested below all those limits.

“We’re very lucky that our upstream water does not have these chemicals right now, but we continue to test,” he said.

While Charlotte has the resources to do so, the rules apply to essentially any municipal water supplier and even some community wells. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control predicts most systems currently out of compliance won’t be able to purchase filtration equipment or contract with certified labs to conduct PFAs testing without help.

The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation sets aside $9 billion to help states come into compliance with the new rules, though the Department of Health and Environmental Control predicts South Carolina systems could cost between $150 million and $200 million alone.

Elizabeth Biser, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said her agency plans to work closely with municipalities to help them take advantage of any support they can get from the federal government, particularly those communities near Fayetteville and along the Cape Fear River, which have been dealing with elevated levels of PFAs for years.

“The compound known as Gen X which is actually produced in North Carolina at a facility that’s located in Fayetteville,” she said. “And that facility has actually contaminated an eight-county region since it’s been in operation.”

Coley said Charlotte Water’s lab is anticipating contracts with other municipalities to assist with testing as well, along with other private labs in the area.

“So that we can help them bridge that gap if they haven’t been testing already,” he said.

Both DHEC and DEQ have tested water systems across the Carolinas and maintain a public list of results.

For North Carolina, you can check here.

For South Carolina’s results you can check here.

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