Read the full article by Adam Wagner (The Raleigh News & Observer)
“RALEIGH — North Carolina could soon regulate one kind of forever chemical in groundwater for the first time and stiffen its rules for another.
On Monday, the N.C. Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board considered a rule recommendation that would see the state tighten groundwater standards for PFOA and PFOS, a pair of PFAS chemicals often referred to as ‘legacy compounds’ because they have been in use longer than other similar substances.
The proposed rule would make the state’s rules significantly more protective, with a combined allowed level of PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion in groundwater. Right now, there is no such standard for PFOS, and the interim standard for PFOA is 2,000 ppt.
‘N.C.’s groundwater standards are used to identify unsafe levels of groundwater contamination; set goals for groundwater remediation; and advise well owners on use of water from affected wells,’ Robin Smith, an environmental attorney and former North Carolina assistant secretary for the environment, wrote in a 2016 blog post. Often, Smith added, the state standards align with federal drinking water standards, but North Carolina has occasionally adopted groundwater rules even where there has not been a federal drinking water rule.
North Carolina does not have a drinking water standard for either chemical. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it intends to pursue a federal standard, or enforceable rule, for both of the legacy compounds.
PFOS belongs to a family that includes hundreds of synthetic, ‘perfluorinated’ compounds developed in the mid-20th century for their ability to deflect heat, oil and water.
They fulfilled tasks over the years that range from protecting carpets from stains, waterproofing tents and other outdoor gear, lining the interior of microwaveable popcorn bags, and smothering fires triggered by gasoline and other flammable liquids.
Researchers at the national level have linked overexposure to the chemicals with human health problems involving high cholesterol levels and, to a lesser degree of scientific certainty, with low infant birth weight, compromised immune systems, kidney and liver issues, poor thyroid function for PFOS, and cancer for PFOA.
The Science Advisory Board is made up of experts throughout the state and provides advice to the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services. Originally, the board was set to vote on the recommended groundwater standard Monday, but chairman Tom Augspurger decided the board would vote on email because several board members calling in could not be heard in the Archdale Building hearing room.
Should the board approve the recommendation, it would head to the state Environmental Management Commission, undergoing a lengthy rule-making process before it could become effective.
PFOA, which has been phased out, is also known as C8. It is frequently associated with Teflon, waterproof clothing and other uses. PFOS is historically associated with Scotchard, but is still used in many firefighting foams and food packaging.
PFOA and PFOS tweaks
Detlef Knappe, the N.C. State environmental engineering professor whose lab discovered the PFAS compound GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water, suggested tweaking the wording of the Science Advisory Board’s recommendation during Monday’s meeting to clarify that it only applies to PFOA and PFOS.
North Carolina groundwater standards state that if there is not enough information to establish a standard for a substance, then any detection above the practical quantitation limit, or the lowest level at which a lab can find the chemical, is a violation.
‘I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as saying the (practical quantitation limit) concept is something that we don’t enforce at all. … We have a concept in place that is protective to impacted communities,’ Knappe said.
Augspurgur agreed to add Knappe’s suggested wording, making it clear that science exists to establish a standard for PFOA and PFOS.
Jamie DeWitt, an East Carolina University toxicology professor, successfully requested that epidemiological data be included in the information considered when updating the standard now and in the future.
‘All of these (values) are dynamic, given new information that we get,’ DeWitt said. ‘So if we have new information from epidemiological studies that characterizes the hazard or points to a risk, then we would be remiss if we didn’t consider how those data may influence a health protective value’…”