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The Bipartistan Infrastructure Law will bring historic investments to clean water, including PFAS mitigation

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Kelly Kenoyer
Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette stands at a lectern to address recent funding to mitigate PFAS in drinking water. He's joined (left to right) by Representative Deb Butler, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, and and North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson.

Out of $50 billion in clean water investments, $10 billion will go to emerging contaminants like PFAS.

The Biden Administration’s recent infrastructure bill will provide billions of dollars to address drinking water contamination, including from emerging contaminants like PFAS.

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances are emerging contaminants that are strongly associated with negative health outcomes like cancers, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and decreased vaccine response. Although the substances were invented in the 1940s, PFAS can now be found in the blood of 99% of living humans. Multiple studies have shown elevated levels of PFAS in the blood of residents near the contaminated Cape Fear River.

At a press conference next to the Cape Fear River, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said there would be $10 billion invested in addressing such contamination across the country, with some of that money coming to Wilmington down the line.

“We're all dealing with [PFAS],” Saffo said. “Bladen County is dealing with it, all the way up the Cape Fear River, Greensboro, everybody's dealing with it. So everybody's going to be asking for some filtration process to protect their water systems. We're just like everybody else, we're going to be asking for ours and we're gonna be fighting for our share.”

$1 billion of the funding is set to help wastewater utilities prevent PFAS discharges into rivers- a known contamination source for the Haw River, a tributary of the Cape Fear.

The other $9 billion is focused on drinking water and water infrastructure improvements through state revolving funds and EPA grants.

The funds addressing PFAS are part of more than $50 billion from the infrastructure bill that will be invested into clean water. Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette said the funding is “the largest investment and water protection in this country ever, and it shows government is serious about tackling the issue of our time.”

While one company, Chemours, has been held financially liable for its discharges and has now limited most of its discharges into the Cape Fear River, the waterway remains contaminated from Chemours and other sources. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is constructing an advanced water filter to remove PFAS from the drinking water, and is suing Chemours for $43 million in construction costs.

It’s still unclear exactly how the funding from the infrastructure bill will be allocated, but Representative Deb Butler of Wilmington said she has confidence in EPA Director Michael Regan. Regan was the head of the North Carolina department of Environmental quality before taking over the EPA earlier this year.

“He was at the helm when PFAS was discovered in the water system,” Butler said, “So he is keenly aware of this issue. And I am confident that that is why it has risen to such national importance. And so I am sure that North Carolina and the treatment of this issue is going to get its fair due because he is in charge of championing it.”

Under Regan’s leadership, the EPA has put new focus on PFAS, and announced a PFAS roadmap in October. It includes final toxicity assessments for GenX, the primary contaminant from Chemours, alongside five other PFAS. Numerous advocates have said they hope to see significant regulations on all PFAS as a category, not just individual chemicals, and perhaps even an outright ban.

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.