Industrial Contaminants Update

What is the Issue? Industrial Contaminants FACTSHEET

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.

Another industrial compound impacting the Haw River watershed is 1,4- dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is a commonly used industrial solventm and is  an emerging contaminant of concern that was monitored in drinking water throughout the United States as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. In October 2016, the state Division of Water Resources completed the second year of a study designed to examine concentrations and identify potential sources of 1,4-dioxane in surface waters of the Cape Fear River basin. The EPA’s current health guidance is 35 ug/L, but North Carolina has set a standard of 0.35ug/L to reflect the 1 in 1 million cancer risk. 

Both of these compounds have been dumped into the Haw from wastewater effluent from Greensboro, Reidsville, and Burlington. These are not removed in traditional drinking water process. Communities downstream in Pittsboro, Apex, Cary, Fayetteville, and Wilmington pull drinking water from the Haw, Jordan Lake, and the Cape Fear. 

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.

 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.

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