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GENX/PFAS Information

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Click below for water test results for unregulated contaminants such as 1,4 Dioxane, Gen-x, and other PFAS 

Northwest Water Treatment Plant Expansion & Reverse Osmosis Treatment Upgrades

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PFAS – FAQ

PFAS General Questions

What is PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. These chemicals are used to make products to resist stains, grease, and water. The most studied PFAS are perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA or C8) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).

Common Uses of PFAS

  • Stain resistant carpet and clothing
  • Non-stick cookware
  • Firefighting foam
  • Food packaging

PFAS do not occur naturally but are widespread in the environment. PFAS can be found in the environment near areas where they are manufactured or where products containing PFAS are often used. PFAS are found in people, wildlife, and fish all over the world. Most PFAS do not break down easily in the environment. Some PFAS can stay in people’s bodies a long time.

There are currently four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have health advisory levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS.

PFOA

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been a manufactured perfluorochemical and a byproduct in producing fluoropolymers. Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. PFOA was used particularly for manufacturing polytetrafluoroethylene, but since 2002, manufacturers have used a new process not requiring this chemical. PFOA persists in the environment and does not break down. PFOA has been identified in bodies of water and in a variety of land and water animals.

PFOS

  • Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) is a synthetic, fully fluorinated organic acid; it is used in a variety of consumer products and is generated as a degradation product of other perfluorinated compounds. Because of strong carbon-fluorine bonds, PFOS is stable to metabolic and environmental degradation. PFOS is one of a large group of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) that are used to make products more resistant to stains, grease, and water. These compounds have been widely found in consumer and industrial products, as well as in food items. Water resources contaminated by PFOS have been associated with releases from manufacturing sites, industrial sites, fire/crash training areas, and industrial or municipal waste sites where products are disposed of or applied.

GenX

  • GenX is a trade name for a man‐made and unregulated chemical used in manufacturing nonstick coatings and for other purposes. Chemours’ facility in Fayetteville began producing GenX commercially in 2009 as a replacement for PFOA. The same chemical is also produced as a byproduct during other manufacturing processes, and it may have been present in the environment for many years before being produced commercially as GenX.

PFBS

  • PFBS is a replacement chemical for PFOS, a chemical that was voluntarily phased out by the primary U.S. manufacturer by 2002. PFBS has been identified in the environment and consumer products, including surface water, wastewater, drinking water, dust, carpeting and carpet cleaners, and floor wax.

 

What are the health advisory levels for PFAS compounds?

On June 15, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced interim and final health advisory levels for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in public drinking water systems and wells across country and the state. These are the only health advisory levels established by the EPA at this time for PFAS compounds:

  • Interim updated Health Advisory for PFOA = 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) with a minimum reporting level of 4 ppt
  • Interim updated Health Advisory for PFOS = 0.02 ppt with a minimum reporting level of 4 ppt
  • Final Health Advisory for GenX chemicals (HFPO-DA) = 10 ppt
  • Final Health Advisory for PFBS = 2,000 ppt

Health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory levels that provide information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water.

While unenforceable, these advisories indicate the level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected to occur. Health advisories provide technical information that federal, state, and local officials can use to inform the development of monitoring plans, investments in treatment solutions, and future policies to protect the public from PFAS exposure.

 

What is the difference between an interim and final health advisory level?

According to the EPA, the agency issues an interim health advisory when a contaminant’s associated health effects assessment is in draft form, but there is a pressing need to provide information to public health officials prior to finalization of the health effects assessment. The PFOA and PFOS interim health advisories are intended to be in place during the time interval between initial understanding of health effects and publication of the final health advisory, maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG), and/or maximum contaminant level (MCL). Final health advisories are based on final health effects assessments.

 

Will EPA release an enforceable regulation for GenX in drinking water?

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA has the authority to set enforceable National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for drinking water contaminants and require monitoring of public water systems.

According to the EPA PFAS Strategic Roadmap, the agency plans to establish a national primary drinking water regulation for PFOA and PFOS that would set enforceable limits and require monitoring of public water supplies, while evaluating additional PFAS and groups of PFAS. The EPA Science Advisory Board consultation is ongoing; with a proposed rule expected in fall 2022 and a final rule expected in fall 2023.

 

How do I know if my drinking water contains PFAS?

Brunswick County Public Utilities Water Customers and Wholesale* Municipal/Utility Water Customers

PFAS contamination is present throughout North Carolina. NCDEQ and NCDHHS began investigating the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear River in June 2017. The Chemours facility in Fayetteville was identified as the company that produces the GenX chemical for industrial processes.

Brunswick County conducts weekly tests of its raw and treated water for several PFAS compounds, including the four with interim or final EPA health advisory levels (PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS). Test results are published on the County’s website for transparency.

*As of June 2022, Brunswick County’s current wholesale customers include Bald Head Island, Holden Beach, Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer (H2Go), Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Shallotte, and Southport.

Private Well Users

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) has a consent order in place that requires Chemours to test private wells for PFAS if they are located within a certain distance to the Chemours facility near Fayetteville or the Lower Cape Fear River. If this could apply to you, contact NCDEQ at (910) 678-1100 for those in the lower Cape Fear (Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender counties).

For private well users that fall outside the eligible testing areas, you can review the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service’s PFAS Testing and Treatment Factsheet to find a lab that can test your well.

 

PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS) has been detected in my water. Is it safe to drink?

Generally, the lower the levels, the lower the risk.

For GenX and PFBS:
  • If above health advisory levels: The levels of GenX/PFBS in your water would increase the risk of health effects based on the EPA health advisory levels for these compounds.
  • If below health advisory levels: The levels of GenX/PFBS in your water are not expected to increase the risk of health effects associated with these compounds.
For PFOA and PFOS:

The new EPA health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS are below levels that can be detected with current commercial laboratory testing. Therefore, any detection of either PFOA or PFOS in drinking water could represent an increased health risk.

 

PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS) has been detected in my water supply. Can I shower, bathe, wash clothes/dishes, water my plants, etc.?

Yes. Based on the current science, only a small amount of PFAS gets into your body through skin, so little PFAS exposure would come from showering, bathing, and similar activities.

Typical follow-up: What about brushing my teeth?

  • The amount of water ingested while brushing teeth is minimal relative to the amount of water typically consumed through eating and Exposures from brushing teeth would present a minimal health risk.

 

Can I use my water to mix my babies’ formula?

For GenX and PFBS:

The health advisory levels were calculated for the most sensitive populations, e.g., infants. If the GenX or PFBS is below the advisory level, then it is not expected to increase risk of health effects and can be used.

For PFOA and PFOS:

The new EPA health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS are below levels that can be detected with current commercial laboratory testing. Therefore, any detection of either PFOA or PFOS in drinking water could represent an increased health risk and we would recommend using an alternate source or filtered water.

 

PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS) has been detected in my water supply. Is it safe for pets or animals?

Health advisory levels are established for humans. It is up to each pet owner to decide whether to offer water with PFAS detections to pets or animals.

At this time, scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to mixtures of different PFAS. One way to learn about whether PFAS will harm people is to do studies on lab animals.

  • Most of these studies have tested doses of PFAS that are higher than levels found in the environment.
  • These animal studies have found that PFAS can cause damage to the liver and the immune system.
  • PFAS have also caused birth defects, delayed development, and newborn deaths in lab animals.

Humans and animals react differently to PFAS, and not all effects observed in animals may occur in humans. Scientists have ways to estimate how the exposure and effects in animals compare to what they would be in humans.

Additional research may change our understanding of the relationship between exposure to PFAS and human health effects.

 

What health effects should I be worried about?

Based on the EPA’s review of the science, exposures to these four PFAS (PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS) above the EPA health advisory levels can

  • decreased liver function
  • decreased immune response and reduced vaccine effectiveness
  • decreased birthweight, behavioral changes of infants and children
  • increased risk of high blood pressure for pregnant women
  • increased cholesterol levels
  • increased risk of kidney and/or testicular

If you are concerned about specific issues with your health, talk with your health care provider. Information for health care providers is available from NCDHHS and from the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain. Studies of laboratory animals given large amounts of PFAS indicate that some PFAS may affect growth and development. Epidemiologic studies on PFAS exposure evaluated several health effects. Descriptions of these studies are available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/. More research is necessary to assess the human health effects of exposure to PFAS. (Information is from the CDC.)

 

How can I be exposed to PFAS?

PFAS can be found in the environment near facilities where they are made or in areas where products containing PFAS are often used. PFAS may be found in contaminated drinking water, food, indoor dust, some consumer products, and workplaces. Most exposures occur through consuming contaminated food or water. Only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through your skin, so very little PFAS exposure occurs during swimming, bathing, or showering in water contaminated with PFAS. Although some types of PFAS are no longer used, many products such as food packaging, firefighting foam and stain resistant treatments still contain PFAS.

 

What can I do to reduce my exposures to PFAS?

It is difficult to fully prevent PFAS exposure because PFAS are present at low levels in some foods and in the environment. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your PFAS exposure.

  • If you live near known sources of PFAS contamination or your drinking water contains PFAS above the EPA health advisory levels, you may want to use a different water source or filter your water before drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula.
  • NC DHHS has developed a PFAS testing and treatment factsheet. This factsheet provides information on available treatment systems that have been shown to reduce PFAS concentrations in drinking water.
  • Reduce your use of products containing PFAS (packaged foods, products with non-stick or stain resistant coatings, and some personal care products). If you have questions about the products you use in your home, contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772.
  • Boiling water will NOT remove PFAS.

 

Is there one location where PFAS studies are summarized?

There are many ongoing PFAS health studies in North Carolina and across the country. Although we don’t currently have one location for summarizing PFAS studies, NCDHHS continues to engage with researchers at the forefront of PFAS research to evaluate new health and toxicity information as it becomes available and update our public health guidance when needed. Ongoing studies include:

Water Treatment Upgrades and Rates – FAQ

Brunswick County Water Treatment Upgrades and Rate Questions

What is Brunswick County doing to remove PFAS contaminates from drinking water?

Brunswick County has actively sought a solution to remove PFAS from drinking water after the discovery of PFAS substances in the Cape Fear River in June 2017. Following review of multiple treatment options, the County selected low-pressure reverse osmosis and initiated a pilot scale system at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant to confirm water quality and PFAS removal. In April 2018, CDM Smith’s reported that the pilot low-pressure reverse osmosis system reduced most PFAs to undetectable levels including PFOA, PFOS and GenX.

The team proceeded with design and the project went out to bid in Winter 2019. The County anticipates the low-pressure reverse osmosis system will go online in summer or fall of 2023, with final completion in early 2024. Individuals can follow the project at brunswickcountync.gov/nwtp.

NC government agencies are also working on all fronts to continue to reduce exposures to GenX and other PFAS. This includes continuing efforts to reduce emissions and discharges from the Chemours plant and efforts to reduce GenX and other PFAS as much as possible in drinking water. The NC Department of Environmental Quality’s PFAS Roadmap details NCDEQ’s priorities and planned actions to reduce PFAS in our state. The US EPA’s PFAS Roadmap details national policies, priorities, and actions planned for the next five years.

 

What is the project at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant going to accomplish?

This three-phase project will expand the plant’s water treatment capacity from 24 million gallons per day (MGD) to 45 million gallons per day that will provide a low-pressure reverse osmosis treatment capacity of no less than 36 million gallons per day (MGD) to support the projected increase of residential, commercial, and industrial water use in the county.

It will feature an advanced low-pressure reverse osmosis water treatment system, which is considered one of the most advanced and effective methods to treat and remove both regulated and unregulated materials from drinking water, including GenX, 1,4-dioxane and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

 

What customers will receive reverse osmosis-treated water once the new low-pressure reverse osmosis treatment system at the Northwest Water Treatment System goes online?

All of Brunswick County’s water customers and wholesale water customers* receive either all or part of their water from the Northwest Water Treatment Plant. Within the Southport, St. James, Oak Island, and Caswell Beach areas, water from the Northwest Water Treatment is blended with water from the Highway 211 Water Treatment Plant to serve customers. The Highway 211 Water Treatment Plant sources its water from groundwater wells. Bald Head Island has its own treatment plant, but supplementary water is supplied by the 211 Water Treatment Plant, or blended water from both county plants. All other customers in the County receive their water solely from the Northwest Water Treatment Plant.

*As of June 2022, Brunswick County’s current wholesale customers include Bald Head Island, Holden Beach, Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer (H2Go), Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Shallotte, and Southport.

 

Why do we need more capacity at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant?

With a population nearing 135,000 residents and growing, Brunswick County is expanding its capacity at the plant to provide an adequate and reliable supply of water to support all of Brunswick County’s residential, commercial, and industrial needs both now and in the future. More than 300,000 people are served by Brunswick County Public Utilities during the peak season (summer), including both county and wholesale customer service areas.

 

Why isn’t Chemours and/or DuPont paying for the reverse osmosis treatment system?

In 2017, Brunswick County joined other utilities in the region to sue DuPont and Chemours. The County is seeking monetary damages from Chemours to hold it responsible for the millions of dollars it is spending to install a new treatment system necessary to remove PFAS contaminants. The lawsuit remains active and ongoing. Any proceeds received will be used for the benefit of all customer classes. How any proceeds from litigation would be used has not been analyzed nor determined at this time.

 

Are water rates paying for the reverse osmosis and expansion at the plant?

Brunswick County is absorbing some of the costs for the Northwest Water Treatment Plant infrastructure enhancements—therefore all the project costs are not directly passed on through water rates. However, the County had to start making anticipated debt service repayments in 2022 for the installation of the reverse osmosis treatment system to remove unregulated PFAS contaminants like GenX from our water and to construct a new raw water line to increase capacity to the plant.

 

How do County retail customer bills compare with retail bills of utilities of similar size in North Carolina?

Under the current rate structure, the estimated bill is $34.68 for someone using 4,500 gallons (or $36.75 for 5,000 gallons). This does not include irrigation. This is well below the average bill of other North Carolina coastal communities of $41.04 (4,500 gallons) and the NC state median of $38.45 (5,000 gallons).

 

What is the estimated monthly cost for a county retail customer with a 3/4-inch meter?

For a retail county customer, the estimated monthly cost for someone using 4,500 gallons per month (average user) is $34.68. This does not include irrigation. Customers can view the County’s latest water and sewer rate schedule at brunswickcountync.gov/rates

Partner Organizations & Resources

For more information from Brunswick County’s partners and other resources, click the links below.

Troubled Waters: The Fight Against PFAS

A documentary short from CDM Smith, the team of consultants working on Brunswick County’s low-pressure reverse osmosis treatment system to address new and emerging compounds.

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