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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

DEQ announces new PFAS strategic roadmap, targeting of 'priority' chemicals

Governor Roy Cooper stands at a podium near Wilmington's waterfront to address PFAS contamination in the river.
Kelly Kenoyer
Governor Roy Cooper stands at a podium near Wilmington's waterfront to address PFAS contamination in the river.

Governor Roy Cooper went to Wilmington to announce state actions on PFAS contamination, in both the legislature and the Department of Environmental Quality.

Governor Cooper came to Wilmington to voice his support for House Bill 1095, which would make companies fiscally responsible for their own pollution.

“Those who made money off of polluting the water should be the ones to pay to clean it up,” he said.

But DEQ isn’t waiting on the legislature to act on PFAS anymore — particularly with recent news at the federal level about the Environmental Protection Agency's PFAS roadmap.

DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said, "EPA's roadmap includes actions that will complement and benefit our state, but it also leaves gaps that we need to fill. When I became Secretary last year, I challenged the team at DEQ to look at all of the department's work on PFAS in a systematic and cohesive way."

Then Biser announced DEQ’s new strategic action plan to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are associated with numerous health conditions, including cancer and immune system dysfunction.

“The DEQ is committing to proposing standards for groundwater, surface water, and drinking water for North Carolina's priority PFAS compounds," she said. Those priority compounds will be a list of 10-15 toxic PFAS that are common to North Carolina, and the standards will be regulated through DEQ’s existing permitting system.

Biser also said the department will begin testing more sites across the entire state and reporting air and water discharges. And she reiterated the department’s commitment to cleaning up existing contamination.

But as Cooper pointed out, dealing with contamination requires funding. "It requires resources to do this work," he said, "and that's why my budget asked the North Carolina General Assembly to make sure that DEQ has funding for an established team to analyze emerging science, provide technical assistance, and support the efforts to protect our drinking water."

Advocates would still like to see the legislature and DEQ go further. Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement released after Cooper's press conference, “we look forward to reviewing this plan and appreciate the agency’s effort to begin setting water quality standards for PFAS. It is essential that DEQ also use its existing authority to control PFAS discharges immediately. The agency can make significant reductions in PFAS pollution by requiring use of widely available, effective technology as it works to collect data necessary to set health-based standards in the future.”  

Biser did not specify a timeline for drinking water standards, but she did say the department is "moving forward expeditiously" on compounds that already have data, and that academic partners are working on toxicity assessments for other compounds of interest.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on 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.