McCrory administration takes action to ensure safe drinking water

Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 12:00am

The federal Environmental Protection Agency today released a health advisory for two perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) called PFOS and PFOA that are not regulated by the federal government. The newly announced health advisory level for these two combined chemicals is 70 parts per trillion for drinking water.  Prior to EPA’s announcement, the McCrory administration began working with water systems that would exceed the new levels to ensure that the drinking water they provide is safe.

EPA periodically releases health risk assessments as a part of the process of developing new drinking water regulations and determining the appropriate regulatory level. However, the federal agency rarely requests that actions be taken by water systems in the absence of regulation and without any proposed regulatory level.  

The federal agency recently provided states a list of water systems with PFOS or PFOA detection above the anticipated health advisory level. DEQ has proactively contacted the two water systems that EPA advised would exceed the new health advisory levels. The systems have been working on a voluntary basis to develop appropriate response strategies. State environmental regulators also advised the water systems to create their own fact sheets so they would be prepared to explain what they are doing to address this emerging issue once the details of EPA’s decision were announced.

PFCs have been widely used in the U.S. but the primary manufacturers recently phased out production. They are commonly used in substances such as firefighting foam and were historically used in the making of such common items as non-stick cookware, stain resistant carpeting and clothing, and microwave popcorn bags. They are extremely persistent in the environment and take a long time to degrade. As a result, PFCs get washed into surface water and seep into groundwater. Once the chemicals make their way into drinking water sources, typical water treatment processes do not remove them.

The EPA has been evaluating whether to develop a federal drinking water standard for these emerging contaminants. Many water systems in the country monitored for PFCs between 2013 and 2015 as part of the federal evaluation process. The monitoring showed only 51 detections of PFCs out of the 7,464 samples from North Carolina public drinking water systems, and only three of those detections from two water systems were above the health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. While PFCs are currently unregulated contaminants, DEQ will continue to proactively work with water systems in North Carolina to ensure that public health is protected.