Read the full article by Taft Wireback (Greensboro News & Record)

GREENSBORO — They’re called ‘forever chemicals’ because they are so durable and long lasting once they get into the air, soil and water.

But it also seems to be taking forever for officials to figure how to regulate and get them under control.

The chemicals are a widely-used class of industrial compound known as Per-and Poly-fluoroalkyls that includes the fire retardant PFOS, which has contaminated parts of the watershed near Piedmont Triad International Airport that supplies faucets across the city.

According to state Rep. Pricey Harrison, legislators in Raleigh are not moving quickly or assertively enough in dealing with PFOS and other forever compounds.

‘In a perfect world, we would not have put these chemicals in the air, water, food wrappers, product packaging, microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes,’ she said.

Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, has sponsored several bills in the N.C. House of Representatives that aim to fix problems with PFOS and its numerous chemical relatives.

But she’s frustrated by the lack of statehouse action on even her most basic proposal, one that would require fire departments and industrial sites to stop using PFOS-laced foam in practice drills.

Harrison’s Democratic colleague, state Rep. Ashton Clemmons, also of Greensboro, has sponsored another bill that takes a somewhat different approach to reining in PFOS, a related compound called PFOA and two other major types of pollutant.

PFOS is known for its useful ability to snuff out fires. PFOA gained prominence for its role in making stick-resistant Teflon coatings. The overall class of chemicals is prized for their ability to resist heat, water, oils, grime and other stains.

‘There are no standards for any of these emerging contaminants,’ Clemmons said. ‘We have to have a system that works better than it does now.’

Meanwhile, Greensboro officials have put plans for $31 million in improvements linked to PFOS and PFOA at the Mitchell Water Plant on Battleground Avenue on hold for a year.

The delay stems partly from the high cost in an economy buffeted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But it also involves uncertainty over what the new standards will be for both chemicals once state and federal regulators get around to setting them.

‘It’s really hard to plan treatment when you don’t know what the end goal is going to be,’ said Dell Harney, Greensboro’s water supply manager. ‘I don’t want to build something based on a hunch.’

Instead of making the improvements focused mainly on PFOS and PFOA, the city Water Resources Department is hiring a consultant for a yearlong series of tests and planning.

The end goal would be to design a water-treatment system flexible enough to deal with a wider range of “emerging” pollutants for which health standards have yet to be set.

‘We’re looking at a full year of pilot testing so we don’t spend the public’s money on something that doesn’t do everything we need,’ Harney said…”