What is the issue?
PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds) get into our water from direct discharges from industrial facilities. PFAS is a class of thousands of synthetic chemicals used for coatings, fire suppression, water proofing and more that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX and is associated with serious health impacts. These contaminants are known as forever chemicals—they do not dissipate, dissolve, or degrade but stay in water, soil and our bodies.
Many industrial facilities in the Haw River basin send their industrial waste to a municipal wastewater treatment plant. Pretreatment is required for these situations, but it only removes heavy metals and very few regulated toxins. These PFAS compounds can not be removed in traditional wastewater or drinking water treatment, so much of these chemicals are entering surface waters through wastewater treatment plants. Additionally, the sludge that is land applied near streams is often sourced from these same wastewater treatment plants. This pathway carries it into streams in rain or during application, and could potentially be contaminating shallow wells.
After a lawsuit in West Virginia, a panel of scientists researched the health impacts of a few specific PFAS compounds and determined that they lead to many significant health issues, like diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and low-birth weight in infants.
Studies have also shown high levels of another industrial chemical, 1,4-dioxane in the Haw River and in drinking water sources. This is a common industrial solvent, and like PFAS may be entering municipal wastewater treatment plants from a large number of factories and facilities, particularly in Burlington, Greensboro and Reidsville. The Haw River Assembly has long been concerned about the presence of these chemicals in Pittsboro’s drinking water, the only town that uses the Haw River as it’s raw source.