Amidst the COVID-19 situation, it seems that everything else has taken a back seat.  And, depending upon who you talk to, the response to the COVID-19 situation is somewhere between “too draconian” to “too lackadaisical.”  As the saying goes, “Time will tell.”

If you work in the environmental world, you can plug per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in place of COVID-19.  They are an emerging group of contaminants with considerable debate as to what is the “right” level of response that we are still trying to fully understand.  Additionally, there are efforts (sometimes conflicting) occurring on both the federal and state fronts.

With that in mind, PFAS news has not gone away.  It is just currently in the “backseat.”

As you are probably aware, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to establish Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for certain PFAS compounds.  However, establishing MCLs under the Safe Drinking Water Act is a prescriptive process that takes years.  In the meantime, many states are sampling, filing lawsuits, and establishing their own MCLs.  Michigan appears positioned to have MCLs in place in the next couple of months.

The National Conference of State Legislature’s (NCSL) website has some helpful information regarding state action plans including a summary of PFAS State Statutes. This is, no doubt, an evolving document.

On the NCSL website they state, “Several states are beginning to address PFAS chemicals.  The North Carolina legislature enacted legislation funding the monitoring and treatment of PFAS, specifically the chemical GenX.”  Based on recently-reported data, North Carolina has some PFAS challenges ahead of them.

More states are sampling water and in some cases, unfortunately, they are finding PFAS compounds in relatively high concentrations

“Staggering” Levels of PFAS

In a February 3, 2020, post in North Carolina Health News, they state, “A water sample taken in September from the Sanford sewage treatment plant that discharges into Deep River uncovered “staggering” concentrations of forever chemicals, newly released documents from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality reveal.”

Some of the data (what appear to be influent grab samples) reported in the NC Health News include perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) at 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt). Additionally, “total” PFAS concentrations (i.e., multiple compounds) of 2,296 ppt and 4,026 ppt were detected in Burlington and Sanford, respectively.

These data were the result of samples collected between July and September of 2019 from 25 utilities in North Carolina.


North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson, Sarah Young, stated in an email that “…there have been no documented levels of PFOS at the downstream water supply intake (for Sanford) showing a concentration greater than the EPA drinking water health advisory level.”  Additionally, Ms. Young stated over the two years of testing for PFAS in municipal water systems, no data have revealed “…high levels of individual PFAS compounds in the City of Sanford water.”

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reports that Burlington, NC, also had exceedances.

Legal Action

The NC Health News website states, “A consent order entered in February among the DEQ, Chemours and the environmental group Cape Fear River Watch speaks to the growing concern of PFAS contamination on human health.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has filed a notice of intent to sue Burlington.  According to the complaint, the SPLC intends to sue “…because it is discharging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) and 1, 4-dioxane from point sources into the Haw River and its tributaries without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.”

There is much more information available from the NC Health News, and if you would like additional information, we encourage you to visit their website.

While many states are developing their own MCLs for some PFAS compounds, there are many unanswered questions.  We continue to work with our clients to develop plans for responding to regulators, provide litigation support, develop sampling plans, and when necessary, plan for remediation.

If you have any PFAS-related questions, feel free to reach out to my colleague, Matthew Schroeder, P.E. or me at 248-932-0228.  Finally, if you want a fresh scientific/regulatory perspective on your particular PFAS issue, ask about our Peer Review Program – which has been a helpful approach for a wide-variety of environmental issues for our clients for more than 30 years.

Principled Foundation | Thoughtful Advice | Smart Solutions