In the previous four articles, The Beacon shared the issues with PFAS contamination, its effects in Brunswick County and what the county, state and Chemours were doing to mitigate and reduce the impact of this issue. We will now provide some recommendations for you, the reader, to consider.
Ideally, the county would apply remediation strategy to remove it completely from our waters. One new remediation technology that some United States counties are employing is Surface Active Foam Fractionation® (SAFF®) Technology. It was found to be capable of Removing Short Chain Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) like GenX.
SAFF represents an effective approach to PFAS remediation, where a combination of aeration and vacuum is used to rapidly remove greater than 99% of target long chain PFAS compounds and, now, a significant majority of short chain PFAS compounds.
This enables treated water to be safely returned to the environment. SAFF exploits the natural properties of PFAS compounds to preferentially bind to the air-water interface through a swarm of rising air bubbles. Once on the surface, the compounds are harvested as a waste foam for permanent destruction using readily available partner technologies. It is a relatively new technology, with the City of Lake Elmo in Minnesota being the first to use this Australian innovation.
There are many other technologies being tested such as Cyclopure, a PFAS filter designed to work with Brita water pitchers, and PFAS Annihilator Mobile Unit, that uses a supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) to safely destroy PFAS chemicals in contaminated water. Both are still in the developmental stage and have not had enough testing to assure reliability.
With Brunswick County unable to acquire either state or federal funding for the $129 million reverse osmosis (RO) system and discharge upgrade, it is highly unlikely the county would find the funding to clean up the waters.
Let’s examine some strategies using the graphic shared previously, The Historical Sources of PFAS and see what immediate processes are in place to address.
1. Firefighting foam: Pope Army Airfield is located twelve miles northwest of Fayetteville on the northern edge of Fort Bragg, but it discharges into the Cape Fear River. In 2018, Pentagon authorities publicly disclosed for the first time a list of at least 126 military locations where higher than recommended quantities of harmful PFAS substances have been identified as the source of soil and groundwater contamination. The US military, which helped develop AFFF firefighting foam in the 1960s, has announced plans to stop using it by October 2024. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
2. Chemours in Fayetteville (DuPont spinoff): This company has been introducing PFAS into the local water basin and the air for about fourteen years of the half-century of its existence. 3M decided to phase out this hazardous product in 2002, the same year DuPont decided to produce it in Fayetteville. Chemours recently agreed to the conditions set forth by the NC Division of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to the deadline of March 2023 for the one-mile barrier wall, as well as other emission limits. Chemours announced in September major expansions at the plant for increased output. Chemours has also failed to submit a required corrective action plan to the DEQ to clean up contaminated groundwater at least 7 square miles surrounding the plant. NO IMMEDIATE BUT SIGNIFICANT LONG-TERM CHANGES
3. Chemours (formerly DuPont): The contamination here is from airborne emissions. The DEQ’s Division of Air Quality discovered that the chemicals were not only in high concentrations in the river, but they were also being emitted into the air, falling with the rain and contaminating hundreds of private drinking wells surrounding the plant. Chemours stated at a September 21 information rollout in Leland that its total airborne emissions would be limited to twenty-six pounds a year. NO IMMEDIATE BUT SIGNIFICANT LONG-TERM CHANGES
4. Landfills and dumps: Although limited compared to other sources, landfill or construction dumps can experience seepage (leachate) or leakage as a potential source. The contamination here is groundwater seepage, especially since this landfill is not lined. This C&D landfill was grandfathered in when new DEQ requirements required liners in 1998. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
5. Private wells: Private wells draw water from the contaminated ground waters. The reverse osmosis project will not affect private water and due to the factors listed above, NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
6. Runoff: Rainwater and irrigation excess seeps into the groundwater. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE
7. Plant uptake: Edible plants can absorb PFAS, but the amount will depend on the plant and the amount of PFAS. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
8. Biosolids fertilizer: The solids remaining from the waste treatment process are used as fertilizer and spread. Biosolids are the nutrient-rich organic materials from the treatment but contain PFAS. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
9. Farm food: Produce from farms can contain PFAS chemicals (see #7). NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE
10. Water treatment: The plans are to upgrade with a low-pressure reverse osmosis system late 2023 and early 2024. NO IMMEDIATE BUT LONG-TERM CHANGE PLANNED
11. Wastewater: Wastewater coming from households and businesses contain PFAS in their discharge. Eventually, a reduction in PFAS intake will reduce the PFAS levels in waste. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
12. Seafood: Studies have shown that aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are affected by PFAS presence. We still do not have PFAS advisories for fish consumption in our region. Numerous PFAS were also found in foam samples retrieved from the ocean shorelines of Caswell Beach and Oak Island as well as a rain gutter from a private residence in Leland. Unfortunately, the study, conducted by Clean Cape Fear and NC State University, found every seafoam sample taken tested positive for numerous different PFAS. Local fishermen are concerned. These estuaries are nurseries for certain fish species that grow to become deep sea dwellers. Commercial vessels from all over the eastern seaboard come and fish at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Studies have been limited so it is difficult to say to what extent they have been affected. NO IMMEDIATE CHANGE IN CONDITIONS
As seen from the various inputs of contamination, there are few processes in place to expediently address some of these issues. In fact, total PFAS test readings of at least fifty-six PFAS derivatives ranged from 124 ppt (parts per trillion) to 138 ppt between the Cape Fear River and finished water at Brunswick County’s Northwest Water Treatment Plant in September 2022. These exceed EPA’s recommended Health Advisory guidelines.
In fact, there is no set water standard from the EPA. The Beacon reached out to the EPA to ask when standards would be set and were informed by their Public Affairs Office it would be at the end of 2022.
So, what options are available for the public? It appears that water filtration won’t be available for at least another year and that doesn’t include the entire county, as there are other utility providers and private wells that won’t benefit from the upgrade.
One option is to switch to bottled water. But Consumer Reports, a non-profit testing organization, recently tested 47 different bottled water brands and found the presence of various PFAS compounds in many. The study tested 35 still or non-carbonated brands and 12 carbonated brands.
Unfortunately, bottled water companies are not required to disclose where they source their water on the bottle itself and bottlers are legally allowed to draw water from artesian wells, mineral water, natural springs, drilled wells, and municipal tap water — potentially source of contamination.
“This study shows that ultrashort-chain PFAS (like GenX) are quite abundant, relative to other PFAS, and should absolutely be tested for, so as to get a more accurate picture of total PFAS present,” Michael Hansen, senior scientist with Consumer Reports, said.
Non-carbonated water Arrowhead and Boxed Water is Better showed no evidence of PFAS, while Deer Park, Tourmaline, and Starkey’s (Whole Foods) had the highest levels with Starkey’s containing arsenic.
A carbonated water with no detectable PFAS was Sparkling Ice. The highest levels of PFAS for carbonated water went to Poland Springs, Bubly, Polar and Topo Chico.
A more comprehensive discussion of all 47 brands can be found in the November 2020 issue of Consumer Reports.
When selecting a safe water, consider the pH level as the ideal is close to 7 but can range from 6.5 up to 8.5. Remember, low pH is more of a concern than high pH. Low pH waters include Aquafina, Dasani, Le Bleu, and Simple Truth. Perfect Ph waters include Fiji, Hydrogen Water, Kroger, LifeWTR, Smart Water and Voss. Alkaline water includes Deer Park, Eternal, and Evian.
It turns out that the Ph balanced LifeWTR and Kroger (Harris Teeter) waters are treated by reverse osmosis. Although Voss and Fiji do not use reverse osmosis, due to the location of their aquifers, the two brands are considered two of the safest brands on the market.
Let’s look at filtration since that process makes the most sense. Whether you own a private well, won’t be serviced by the Northwest Water Treatment Plant or are concerned about it being more than a year until the RO system is completely in place, the highest rated filtration processes were reverse osmosis units.
As stated before, PFAS experts believe reverse osmosis is better able to handle the short chain chemicals like GenX compared to activated carbon systems. Costs for reverse osmosis units can range from $150 to $2000.
Duke University’s Nicholas School of Environment, under the direction of Dr. Heather Stapleton, tested multiple filters and found, on average, reverse osmosis removed 94% of PFAS, while the activated carbon removed 73%.
One under the sink filter worth considering is the Hydroviv. This NSF-certified unit combines various filtration means and performed extremely well in the filter test conducted by Duke University, removing all PFAS. It is activated charcoal, so it is not quite as effective for GenX short-chain as a reverse osmosis unit.
The cost for a Hydroviv under-the-sink filter was around $175, while an under-the-sink and refrigerator combo was $290. The filter is selected based on your city and contamination levels and requires replacement of the filter every six months. Don’t forget the icemaker when installing since we often use ice from our refrigerator as well. Professional installation may be preferred.
Keep in mind that, according to the Duke University study, water pitcher and faucet filters did not perform well in filtering out PFAS, nor did traditional cartridge filters for refrigerators.
“Home filters are really only a stopgap,” said Dr. Detlef Knappe, the S. James Ellen Distinguished Professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at North Carolina State University, whose lab teamed with Stapleton’s to conduct the study. “The real goal should be control of PFAS contaminants at their source.”
However, until that is possible, some form of preventive device to minimize the risks is needed.
In researching this article series, The Beacon conducted an unofficial poll of fifteen restaurants and found only 20% of those polled used adequate filtration, meaning a reverse osmosis unit or, at least, a activated carbon filter.
For your safety, ask the restaurant what type of filtered water they use; if none are available, encourage its installation. The community can have an influence on filtration until the tap water is completely safe to consume.
Another thing you can do is get rid of all Teflon coasted pans—don’t send them to Goodwill or a thrift shop for someone else’s use. Trash them.
Remember, many lab animals perished during the studies by both 3M and DuPont while examining the effects of PFAS, so make sure your pets get clean water as well.
The Green Science Policy Institute, headed up by Dr. Arlene Blum, has a list of PFAS-free products, which is important because constant exposure can create bioaccumulation and risks.
The NCDEQ has a website that provides a vast array of information to the consumer, including water testing laboratories, filtration suggestions as well as poor filter options to avoid.
There are various advocacy groups in the area you may want to contact for additional information. These include contacting Emily Donovan at Clean Cape Fear or Dana Sargent at Cape Fear River Watch.
Our health in Brunswick County is at risk. This is not like global warming where you are unsure what individual act will alter that trend. There are specific things you can do to minimize the health risks we have shared in this article series. Aristotle once said, “Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.” Act!