Local water agencies in Orange, Chatham and Durham counties shared their support and excitement around new rules against “forever chemicals” in drinking water on Wednesday, after the Environmental Protection Agency announced its first national and legally-enforceable limits.

The federal agency held an event in Fayetteville, N.C. on Wednesday to share details on the change — a fitting spot since the community was the site of one of the major instances of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) being discovered as polluting the water in the Cape Fear River. EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who is a North Carolina native and previously led the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, announced the new rule against the substances.

“Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” said Regan. “That is why President Biden has made tackling PFAS a top priority, investing historic resources to address these harmful chemicals and protect communities nationwide. Our PFAS Strategic Roadmap marshals the full breadth of EPA’s authority and resources to protect people from these harmful forever chemicals. Today, I am proud to finalize this critical piece of our Roadmap, and in doing so, save thousands of lives and help ensure our children grow up healthier.”

Moving forward, the EPA will establish a maximum contaminant level of 4.0 parts per trillion for the chemicals Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The federal agency said the standard will reduce exposure from these PFAS to “the lowest levels that are feasible for effective implementation.” Meanwhile, the maximum levels for other PFAS will be set to 10 parts per trillion. The EPA’s non-enforceable and health-based goal for PFOS and PFOA will be zero — with the goal of ensuring no exposure and potential health risks.

With the change, EPA officials and President Joe Biden’s administration estimate around 100 million people will see their PFAS exposure from drinking water significantly reduced.


Local water agencies have already been implementing or preparing ways to filter out PFAS during water treatment. In a joint statement shared Wednesday, the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), Durham Department of Water Management, and Raleigh Water said they are using increased monitoring and testing to track their customers’ levels of PFAS. Additionally, the group said they are exploring treatment options and are collectively “committed to meeting the EPA’s new guidance on PFAS regulations.”

“Durham Water, OWASA, and Raleigh Water applaud the EPA’s action to help protect drinking water in North Carolina and around the country,” said the release. “PFAS compounds present unique challenges due to their persistence in the environment and potential health risks. With a shared commitment to ensuring safe and clean drinking water for our communities, we are dedicated to addressing this critical issue to meet the latest regulatory standards.”

OWASA Executive Director Todd Taylor also shared an individual statement with Chapelboro about the new federal PFAS rule.

“The news from the EPA today is no surprise to OWASA — we have been proactively monitoring our drinking water for PFAS since 2018 and anticipating these new standards,” he said. “Our work on reducing PFAS is already underway, including increased monitoring, interim modifications to our water treatment process, and planning for long-term investments to reduce PFAS in drinking water. We also are moving forward with a communications plan to make sure our community is well informed and aware of our efforts on this important issue.”

Further south in Chatham County, the Town of Pittsboro has been a leader in taking steps to address PFAS and other contaminants in its residents’ drinking water — especially in light of pollutant releases upstream in the Haw River over the last decade. While the local government has approved a utility merger with the City of Sanford, Pittsboro officials have said they plan on carrying over their advanced filtration efforts to reduce such contaminants.

“Our town’s early action on PFAS is a testament to our commitment to providing our residents with the safest and cleanest water possible,” said Pittsboro Town Manager Jonathan Franklin in a release. “We believe in taking proactive measures to protect our community’s health and the environment, and our investment in advanced filtration technology clearly demonstrates this belief.”

“We are proud to align with the federal government’s initiative to limit PFAS in drinking water and will continue to work diligently to maintain and improve our town’s water quality,” added Pittsboro Mayor Kyle Shipp. “The cost of removing industrial chemicals from our drinking water should not be the responsibility of our residents and ratepayers. I look forward to furthering discussions around water quality protections and placing the responsibility for reducing these chemicals on the dischargers through my membership on the EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee – Small Communities Advisory Subcommittee.”

The Town of Hillsborough handles its own water and sewer operations, and its utility director Marie Strandwitz said while she believes Hillsborough residents are less affected by PFAS contaminants, the change by the EPA will make a difference.

“We are fortunate that our drinking water is essentially unimpacted and past testing has reflected very low to nondetectable levels of such contaminants in our drinking water,” said Strandwitz. “The town is at the head of the Neuse River Basin with no significant contributors upstream of its raw water intake. We do recognize our peer utilities downstream and in different river basins have significant challenges with regards to forever chemicals and applaud their proactive steps in anticipation of this announcement. Providing clean and safe drinking water is of utmost importance to all of us.”

The full Environmental Protection Agency announcement on updated PFAS regulations and enforcement can be found here.

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