Read the full article by Lisa Sorg (NC Policy Watch)

“North Carolina lags behind several states in regulating PFAS, prompting residents with contaminated drinking water to again urge state environmental officials to regulate the toxic compounds.

‘Lives are on the line,’ said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, at the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board meeting yesterday. ‘DEQ and DHHS are not acting quickly enough.’

This is nearly verbatim of what Donovan, thousands of residents of the Cape Fear River Basin, scientists, advocacy groups and several lawmakers have told the agencies for more than four years, since GenX, a type of PFAS, was discovered in the Cape Fear River. 

There are thousands of types of PFAS, also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl compounds. They are widespread in the environment, where they linger for hundreds of years, earning them the nickname ‘forever chemicals.’

Most people have been exposed to some level of PFAS. They are found in drinking water, microwave popcorn bags, fast food containers, stain- and grease-resistant fabrics, and hundreds of other consumer products. Depending on exposure levels, the compounds have been linked to multiple health problems, including thyroid disorders, reproductive and fetal development problems, immune system deficiencies and kidney and testicular cancers. 

Roughly 1,850 facilities in North Carolina could be handling PFAS and potentially discharging them into water, according to an EPA database. Yet unlike its counterparts in Michigan, New York, New Hampshire and New Jersey, the NC Department of Environmental Quality has not meaningfully regulated the toxic compounds in drinking water supplies.

Since 2017, when the PFAS crisis publicly emerged, DEQ has confirmed only a handful of dischargers of the compounds — Chemours Fayetteville Works Plant being the primary one. Nor has DEQ required industry to disclose the types of compounds discharged or their amounts. 

DEQ officials have often said they were waiting for EPA guidance — guidance that was scant and often politicized during the years of the Trump administration. They have also noted that North Carolina lawmakers have prohibited state agencies from enacting rules stricter than the federal government’s.

For affected communities, not just in the Cape Fear Basin, but statewide, those justifications are wearing thin. 

New momentum in Washington

Under the Biden administration and EPA Administrator Michael Regan — the former head of DEQ — the scientific pace has quickened. The EPA is expected to announce a stricter health advisory goal for GenX this spring, with similar actions for two other contaminants, PFOA and PFOS, in late 2022. These goals are not legally enforceable, but can serve as baselines for states to set their own standards.

It will likely be at least 2024, however, before the EPA enacts a legally enforceable drinking water standard for some types of PFAS. It’s also unclear whether the EPA will regulate all 5,000-plus compounds as a class (which industry will likely oppose), in clusters (based on their chemical makeup), or individually. Because of the extended rulemaking process, regulating the compounds individually would take hundreds of years to accomplish.

‘We know that [at the] federal level it will take time; the EPA has to look at national issues,’ Assistant DEQ Secretary Sushema Masemore told the Science Advisory Board. “North Carolina will build on the EPA, but meet our needs.”

That includes identifying sources of PFAS discharges, Masemore said, as well as requiring additional monitoring. The agency plans to review existing permits and ‘take actions as needed to meet environmental standards.'”…