North Carolina continues to lead the way on addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. Since releasing the DEQ Action Strategy for PFAS on June 7, 2022, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has taken significant action to address PFAS in the state with a focus on protecting communities, protecting drinking water and cleaning up existing contamination. DEQ’s Action Strategy builds on the state’s ongoing PFAS work related to GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River basin that began in 2017 and expands that into a comprehensive statewide approach.
“Addressing PFAS is a priority for DEQ and we have made great strides to ensure North Carolinians are better informed and better protected,” said Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. “PFAS is a statewide issue and we are taking a whole of department approach, guided by our Action Strategy, to restrict, research, and remediate these forever chemicals in our state."
This month, DEQ is launching a pilot program under the Bernard Allen Emergency Drinking Water Fund to support North Carolina residents that have PFAS contamination in their private drinking water wells. Funding for treatment systems will be provided to eligible residents with PFAS contamination that equals or exceeds health advisory levels, on a scale based on household income. The program is meant to address PFAS contamination when there is no designated responsible party that provides alternate drinking water. The Bernard Allen program supports DEQ’s well sampling across the state and applications for the pilot treatment program will be provided to residents who meet the program criteria, as long as funding is available.
DEQ continues to work with public water systems to assess PFAS levels across the state and prepare for final adoption of the EPA’s proposed drinking water regulation announced in March.
In 2022, DEQ performed three months of sampling at 50 municipal and county water systems identified in the 2019 PFAST Network study with PFOA/PFOS detections above the minimum reporting level of 4 parts per trillion indicated by the 2022 EPA interim health advisories. Of those, 42 systems currently have PFOA or PFOS above the proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels. DEQ is actively working with the systems to determine options for treatment, reduction or alternate water sources.
DEQ is currently sampling 655 small systems, including schools and daycares, to provide more complete data statewide.
DEQ is utilizing federal funding for emerging contaminants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to assist public water systems with the required studies, assessments, and treatment projects to address PFAS contamination.
DEQ’s regulatory divisions are requiring PFAS information from new facilities and industries; adding permit conditions as appropriate to address PFAS air emissions or wastewater discharges to require disclosure of data and additional monitoring; and requiring all solid waste sanitary landfills to include PFAS analyses of all regular groundwater, surface water, and leachate samples (March 13, 2023 letter).
Proposing Regulatory Standards
In the Action Strategy, DEQ committed to proposing groundwater and surface water standards for PFAS. EPA has released important scientific information required to develop state water quality standards, including human health risk studies, reference doses, and lifetime health advisories. Today, the North Carolina Secretaries' Science Advisory Board completed its review of the latest scientific information to protect a variety of surface water uses and recommended a method for developing bioaccumulation factors for two PFAS compounds. Using these data, DEQ is moving forward with rule-making concepts for groundwater and surface water standards to be presented to the committees of the Environmental Management Commission in upcoming meetings.
DEQ continues to focus on remediation of known PFAS contamination sites and requiring responsible parties to clean up contamination.
DEQ is actively collaborating with the state’s scientific community. DEQ and the NC Collaboratory established the Applied Science Fellowship to strengthen the partnership between state regulators and academic experts and advance the science on PFAS. Two rounds of the fellowship program have been completed with new cohorts starting each semester. Nationally recognized experts from Duke University, East Carolina University, NC State, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington are working with DEQ staff on emerging issues, building collective scientific understanding, and linking research with applied science.
North Carolina is also working with federal and state partners to address PFAS nationally and further develop strategies to address the life cycle of PFAS. DEQ also works closely with the NC Department of Health and Human Services to ensure agency actions are protective of public health and the environment.
DEQ posts resources online to help North Carolina residents learn more about PFAS and the impact in North Carolina. These pages are updated regularly.