Managing Emerging Compounds in Water

The N.C. Division of Water Resources is implementing several projects associated with compounds of concern, or emerging compounds. Studies were conducted in 2018 to characterize the presence of these compounds in various water supply reservoirs and an effort is underway to develop an overall management strategy to reduce the levels of these compounds in the Cape Fear River Basin. 

Emerging compounds, such as 1,4 dioxane and PFAS, do not currently have federal water quality standards. Data collected and reviewed as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule has indicated elevated concentrations of these compounds in drinking water that originated from the Cape Fear River Basin. In addition, monitoring performed by DWR has confirmed the presence of these compounds in surface waters within the Cape Fear River Basin.

Groundwater and Surface Water Quality Standards Actions

Groundwater and Surface Water Quality Standards Actions

The North Carolina Division of Water Resources (DWR) has proposed a 15A NCAC 02L .0202 Groundwater Quality Standard of 70 ppt for total PFOA and PFOS, as part of the ongoing effort to understand and track emerging compounds.


The Environmental Management Commission approved the proposed rule amendments for a public comment period at their November 19, 2020 meeting. The public comment period for this proposed rulemaking ended March 16, 2021.


For more information visit Groundwater Triennial Review & Rulemaking.


DWR has also established 1,4-Dioxane in-stream target values (ITVs) of 0.35 ug/L in surface waters classified as water supplies and 80 ug/L in all other surface waters. ITVs provide numeric regulatory values for substances that do not have existing water quality standards in 15A NCAC 02B .0200. ITVs are developed based on the narrative standard for toxic substances in 15A NCAC 02B .0208 and are implemented as surface water quality standards.


DWR has proposed the codification of these ITVs into the 15A NCAC 02B .0200 Surface Water Quality Standards as part of the current 2020-2022 Surface Water Triennial Review. This triennial review is currently in progress.


More information about the 2020-2022 Surface Water Triennial Review, including an estimated rulemaking timeline, can be found at Surface Water Standards.

PFAS Foam Information

PFAS Foam Information

Since June 2020, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has been investigating reports by residents who observed unusual foam appearing on nearby creeks or after rain events, including in the Gray’s Creek area of Cumberland County.

In response, DEQ staff has collected samples of foam for analysis. While there is not a certified testing method for foam, the samples have been found to contain elevated levels of PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Surface water samples collected around and under the foam contained considerably lower levels of PFAS.

Presently there is no EPA-approved or certified method for collecting or testing of foam. Foam collection methods are in the early stages of development nationwide. However, DEQ continues to investigate the formation, composition and potential sources of foam occurrences.

Identifying PFAS Foam

The only way to be certain a foam substance contains PFAS is to have it tested by a certified laboratory. However, there appears to be some distinguishing characteristics of PFAS foam such as it can be bright white and tends to pile up like shaving cream.

Naturally Occurring Foam

Foam on water can be a natural occurrence when rainfall and wind mix up fatty substances and gases from decomposing plants and aquatic animals. The concentration, or build up, of the organic compounds changes the physical nature of the water, making it easier for foam to form. Wind turbulence and wave action at the shoreline pushes air into the water which mixes with organic compounds and forms the bubbles in foam. Currents and boats also churn the water and mix air with the organic compounds in the water to produce naturally occurring foam. Foam can appear year-round on lakes and streams as long as there is open water.

Naturally occurring foam has the following typical characteristics:

  • is off-white and/or brown,
  • may have an earthy or fishy smell, and/or
  • often collects in bays, eddies or river blockages.

NOTE: PFAS substances can intermingle within natural foams. The two foams cannot be visually distinguished and/or may coexist. Laboratory analysis, using proper sampling techniques, is the only way to determine if a foam contains PFAS.

As a precaution, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommends avoiding contact with all foam, especially for children and pets. NCDHHS recommends that any skin or clothing that comes into contact with the foam should be washed with soap and water immediately. Pets that come into contact with the foam should be thoroughly rinsed off with fresh water.

Management Strategy for Industrial Dischargers and Pretreatment Facilities

Management Strategy for Industrial Dischargers and Pretreatment Facilities

DWR required publicly owned utilities with pretreatment programs (POTWs) and industrial dischargers with state permits in the Cape Fear River Basin to screen for a set of emerging compounds in wastewater.  These permit holders were required to sample for 1,4 dioxane and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, for three consecutive months. The monitoring effort is part of an ongoing management strategy to address some of these compounds in surface water and results for both rounds of sampling are included in the interactive map. 

View Map


The map shows each of the 28 Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) and the water supply intakes located in the Cape Fear River Basin. DWR required sampling of the influent (or incoming wastewater stream) at these facilities because they receive wastewater from industrial sources that may contain 1,4 dioxane or one or more of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS.  Sampling was performed over a three-month period starting in July 2019.

1,4 Dioxane

The 1,4 dioxane influent sampling results from all 28 POTWs indicated that there were three POTWs of primary concern belong to Greensboro, Reidsville, and Asheboro. The results from the remaining POTW samples were significantly lower and are not anticipated to cause levels at downstream water intakes to exceed the EPA drinking water health advisory of 35 micrograms per liter (ug/L), or parts per billion (ppb).

  • Notices of Violations have been issued to Greensboro and Reidsville and additional monitoring and enforcement actions are underway to limit and enforce reductions of 1,4 dioxane in their discharge.
  • Asheboro’s corrective action plan states that an industrial user in their pretreatment program is installing best available treatment technology to reduce 1,4 dioxane in its discharge to the wastewater treatment plant.  That treatment technology was installed in November 2020.  Asheboro’s POTW does not directly discharge to a water supply.
PFAS Compounds

The PFAS influent sampling results from the POTWs indicate that one facility is potentially affecting a downstream water intake. One sampling event at Sanford’s Big Buffalo POTW showed influent levels that may cause an instream concentration of PFOS, PFOA, or the sum of PFOS and PFOA to exceed EPA’s drinking water health advisory of 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L), or parts per trillion (ppt), at Sanford’s water supply intake.

  • DEQ has initiated ongoing monthly sampling and source identification measures with the city of Sanford.
  • Influent sampling results from the other 24 POTWs showed PFOS and PFOA at concentrations that would not cause a downstream water supply to exceed EPA’s drinking water health advisory of 70 ng/L at the intake.

Industrial Dischargers

The effluent sampling from the 20 Industries and Groundwater Remediation (GWR) Sites was performed over a three-month period starting in Oct. 2019. DWR required sampling at these facilities because they either had a history of discharging 1,4-dioxane indicator compounds or are industry types that are historically linked to the discharge of 1,4 dioxane or one or more of the PFAS compounds. Several facilities completed sampling in May and all results were submitted by the end of June 2020. The division reviewed all data and updated the map to include all the industrial facilities and data received.

DWR continues to investigate all potential sources of 1,4 dioxane and PFAS compounds in state waters and is using this information to help guide additional actions to protect downstream water supplies.

1,4 Dioxane Investigation in the Cape Fear River

1,4 Dioxane Investigation in the Cape Fear River

1,4-dioxane is a clear liquid that is highly miscible in water. It has historically been used as a solvent stabilizer and is currently used for a wide variety of industrial and manufacturing purposes. The compound can be found in industrial solvents, paint strippers and varnishes, and is often produced as a by-product of chemical processes to manufacture soaps, plastics, and other consumer products. PFAS compounds are most often associated with nonstick coatings, plating operations, firefighting foams, and stain- and water-resistant treatments for clothing, furniture and carpeting.

Since 2014, the Division of Water Resources has been sampling for 1, 4 dioxane in the Cape Fear River Basin, after seeing elevated concentrations reported as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3).

Elevated levels of 1,4 dioxane were identified downstream of the Greensboro, Reidsville, and Asheboro wastewater treatment plants, and DWR has worked in collaboration with those facilities to reduce the discharge. To help facilitate the effort, DWR required all three cities to submit corrective action plans outlining steps to reduce the substance from their discharge. DWR also encouraged the pretreatment programs in the Cape Fear Basin to have the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service’s Waste Reduction Partners work with their industry dischargers to reduce or eliminate their 1,4-dioxane effluent.  In addition, DEQ is working to determine and assess any additional sources of 1,4 dioxane contribution in the basin beyond the dischargers that may be causing contaminated groundwater to infiltrate into surface water. 

Monthly sampling for 1,4 dioxane has been collected by the permittees once per month since Dec. 2017 and submitted on the discharge monitoring reports. To see the discharge monitoring report data, go to the interactive map.

Weekly sampling for 1,4 dioxane at the Greensboro and Reidsville wastewater treatment plants was initiated when DWR learned about the elevated levels of 1,4 dioxane in Pittsboro’s drinking water in October 2019. In early November, staff also started sampling at the East Burlington wastewater treatment plant on the Haw River. That data will be released once it has been reviewed. 

On November 14, 2019 DEQ issued notices of violation to the wastewater pre-treatment programs for the cities of Greensboro and Reidsville for recent 1,4 dioxane discharges that violated water quality standards and the conditions of their wastewater permits.

Links to NPDES permit information for Greensboro, Reidsville and Asheboro

Greensboro NPDES permit documents

Reidsville NPDES permit documents 

Asheboro NPDES permit documents 

News Releases about the ongoing investigation

Nov. 15, 2019: DEQ issues violation notices to Greensboro and Reidsville for 1,4 dioxane discharges

Oct. 22, 2019: DEQ investigating 1,4 dioxane levels from Reidsville, notifying utilities

Oct. 15, 2019: DEQ Investigating 1,4 Dioxane Release

T.Z. Osborne WWTP - Special Order by Consent

EMC SOC WQ S19-010 - SOC between the EMC and the City of Greensboro (approved at the March 11, 2021 EMC meeting)

EMC Meeting March 11, 2021 Attachments:

Hearing Officer's Report (with supplemental appendices and SOC signed by the City of Greensboro)

T.Z. Osborne WWTP 1,4-dioxane Effluent Data

Notice of Violation and City of Greensboro's Response

T.Z. Osborne WWTP Composite Sampling Plan

EPA 1,4-dioxane 2018 Health Advisory

Public Notice - Date extension of second announcement (comment period ends December 14, 2020)

Public Notice - Second announcement (comment period ends December 9, 2020)

SOC S19-010 - Updated from first public notice

Frequently Asked Questions

Public Hearing Announcement

Register for December 9 Public Hearing

Instructions on how to join a WebEx meeting

Public Notice - First announcement (public comments ended July 24, 2020)
Draft SOC S19-010 - First public notice

Well Testing in New Hanover County

Well Testing in New Hanover County

DEQ continues to investigate the presence of PFAS compounds in groundwater wells located in New Hanover County.

DEQ staff have performed three rounds of sampling in public water supply wells and DEQ ambient monitoring wells since May 2019, when Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) disclosed results of detections of PFAS in wells in their system. DEQ has shared results with CFPUA and other well owners. 

The detections of PFOA and PFOS in all of the public water supply wells were below the lifetime health advisory level set by the EPA in 2016 and GenX detections were below the provisional drinking water health goal set by DHHS in 2017.

DEQ will continue to sample public water supply wells, monitoring wells and surface water to further define the extent of the PFAS compounds.

Map of sampling locations.
Please note: The yellow diamonds reference monitoring wells and the blue squares reference public water supply wells.

Excel spreadsheet of results.

Surface Water Sampling 

Surface Water Sampling 

The Division of Water Resources performed three studies in 2018 to characterize the presence and concentrations of select emerging compounds (EC) in B. Everett Jordan Reservoir and its immediate watershedFalls Lake and its immediate watershed and in various public water supply (PWS) reservoirs in the Cape Fear, New and Watauga River Basins.

Monitoring continues across the state to further evaluate potential source areas as the division establishes PFAS analytical capabilities. The division will also use the UNC Policy Collaboratory’s data from drinking water intakes when available to help identify future sampling locations.

Analytical Results for PFAS Screening of Select Public Water Supply Reservoir