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With CFPUA's new PFAS filter delayed, Authority board approves $700,000 stopgap measure

Construction delays on a more permanent GAC filter necessitated the purchase of another set of interim filters at the Sweeney Plant. After a vote Wednesday morning, the CFPUA board will spend $700,000 on the granular activated carbon, which filters out PFAS from raw Cape Fear River Water.

CFPUA Spokesperson Vaughn Haggerty says that a stopgap is necessary because the contractor won’t be able to finish construction for two additional months.

“The delays in the construction were caused by rain mainly, and also labor and supply chain issues related to the covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

The new filter system, which cost $46 million, is now set to come online in June of 2022. It will cost $3 million per year to operate.

The Cape Fear River is contaminated with a significant amount of PFAS — sometimes above 100 parts per trillion. For comparison, 70 parts per trillion is the federal health advisory for some PFAS individual chemicals for drinking water; many PFAS don't have individual health limits or guidelines, and as of yet there is no North Carolina limit based on the combined amount of various PFAS — something some advocates have called for and other states have done. At least some of the PFAS comes from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville, according to CFPUA data about 40 parts per trillion over the summer.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are associated with negative health impacts like testicular cancer, endocrine disorders, and reduced efficacy of vaccines.

The interim filters, which have been in use since 2019, remove an average of 40% of the PFAS from the drinking water, while the new system will remove about 90%. Once those are online, the interim filters will go back to their original purpose of treating the water for different contaminants, including 1,4-dioxane.

Because much of the PFAS in the Cape Fear came from Chemours, CFPUA is suing the company for the cost of building and running the filter. Haggerty says that will make the company pay those costs, instead of CFPUA customers — who are currently on the hook. That lawsuit is still pending.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.