North Carolina is a scenic beauty with a vivid cultural richness that allows its residents to live happily, safely, and meaningfully. In fact, many people from other states consider North Carolina one of the best places to live in. North Carolina even emerged as the 26th safest place in all of the United States. Not until water pollution issues start to appear out of the blue —creating little sparks of doubt in the hearts of many and endangering the lives of its people. It goes without saying that a place without good, clean, and pollution-free drinking water is a place that is not safe at all. In that case, is North Carolina really one of the safest states to live in, or was it all a once-upon-a-time story?
To give you an overview, North Carolina has recently faced a variety of issues regarding water pollution. What was once a historically water-rich state faced a water crisis at such a critical moment. A number of researches show that North Carolina's water is high in PFAS levels, otherwise known as Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances. This PFAS contamination has become such a dilemma on its water quality, resulting in panic and worries among the residents.
Furthermore, PFAS pollution in water supplies is known to generate myriad health problems such as cancers, cholesterol, hypertension, thyroid complications, and many other diseases. These groups of potentially harmful chemicals, also referred to as the compounds called "forever chemicals," exhibit strong persistence in striving in water environments. In a literal sense, PFAS exists because they persist, and therefore, we are doomed if we consume water with PFAS contamination. As such, human health is severely affected when exposed to toxic chemicals such as PFAS exposure. Being the 3rd highest state for PFAS pollution, accounting for North Carolina's water supply as unsafe drinking water is such an understatement, now, is it not?
Apart from that, North Carolina is also facing other adversities of the water crisis. With much pressure from the press and several environmental agencies, it is faced with utmost rage from the public and big liability to resolve water pollution issues. Urgency, accountability, and responsibility; are three big words that can define NC waterways in the future. Surely, if they don't take action now, the residents of surrounding communities will continue to be deprived of clean and reliable drinking water —which, by the way, is a basic human right.
THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY (DEQ)
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is the primary environmental agency that oversees the protection of North Carolina's environmental resources, including water. Moreover, this organization has offices stationed in secluded areas like mountains, coasts, and small towns. Generally, they supervise the administration of regulations and environmental protection programs that safeguards air quality, water quality, and human health. To add, they also work towards the advancement of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that the people of North Carolina need.
This environmental working group is also the go-to of business owners, farmers, local governments, and the entire North Carolinians for technical assistance. They are the biggest advocates for environmental health, promoting both responsibility and stewardship towards the surroundings through various educational programs and seminars. Through DEQ's objectives, North Carolinians are able to receive a good drinking water supply —improving the quality of life for all.
There are four (4) divisions under DEQ's supervision, namely; Division of Air Quality, Division of Marine Fishes, Division of Waste Management, and Division of Water Resources. Focusing on the Division of Water Resources is the decision-making body for the environmental protection and quality of Surface water and groundwater. It is also the one responsible for clean tap water and providing safe drinking water to all community members. They are in strict compliance with the laws, policies, and ordinances mandated by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, N.C. General Assembly, the Environmental Management Commission, and the Commission for Public Health.
So, what exactly do they do? They issue pollution-control permits, survey residents' compliance, and give the necessary sanctions for environmental violations. They also perform experiments and tests to evaluate environmental water quantity and quality. Overall, they lead the development of water quality standards, rules, and management strategies.
One of the main responsibilities of the Public Water Supply Section is to regulate public water systems in North Carolina, in accordance with the public utility authority of G.S. 130A Article 10. With the number of over six thousand directed public water systems in the state, productive water regulation is a necessity. In fact, an estimated 75% of the state's populace lives in regions served by local area water systems. Meanwhile, others are served by various kinds of public water systems, like working environments, schools, parks, or restaurants.
To elaborate, the Public Water Supply Section has branches and programs for the following agenda:
The proper implementation and execution of the Safe Drinking Water Act, as mandated and in compliance with the federal state.
Take control of the plans for the creation, revision, and improvement of the state's water systems.
Inspect, investigate, and provide technical assistance for various implementation of water systems.
Take immediate action to emergencies and complaints brought upon by water problems such as contaminated drinking water.
Conduct precautionary assessments of testing water, look out for emerging contaminants and eliminate negative health impacts.
Consistently develop the capacity of water systems to maximize the provision of drinking water supplies all across the country.
Needless to say, these goals and responsibilities are crucial in the maintenance of good drinking water in North Carolina. After all, their role is to promote clean water supplies and enhance water facilities as public health advocates.
Essentially, their mission is to advocate for public health by guaranteeing the availability of safe and potable water for the consumption of North Carolinians. It is also part of their mission to ensure that all public water systems are adequately delivered, created, implemented and maintained.
The organization's primary vision is to imagine the whole community of North Carolinians having access to a clean and reliable drinking water supply, as provided by functional water systems.
NORTH CAROLINA'S CONCERNS FOR WATER POLLUTION
North Carolina's biggest watershed is the Cape Fear River watershed. It is the source of water for over one million individuals, providing water for drinking needs and other water necessities. Hence, with the surge in water pollution, there are also over one million people who were badly affected by wastewater discharges. As said, the water content has shown high levels of industrial contaminants.
Dating back as early as 1980 to 2015, Cape Fear River's chemical burdens were already starting. In 1980, the river has been contaminated with chemical compounds containing fluorine, otherwise known as Fluorochemical production. It started at DuPont’s Fayetteville Works plant, which eventually combined with Chemours in the later years. Next, the detection of PFAS (also called PFOA) in the North Carolina waters is first documented. The Cape Fear River basin got contaminated with wastewater discharges from the plant.
Two years later, Chemours started replacing PFOA with a chemical called GenX. This was in compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PFOA Stewardship Program in 2009. Beginning in 2012, the water content of the Cape Fear River got detected for the chemical GenX along with other PFAS. And then, following in the year 2014, GenX finally reached the city of Wilmington, contaminating their drinking water with toxic chemicals.
Lastly, sampling was completed in 2015 for the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3). According to the results released, PFAS is present in over 20 public water systems, 11 of which were detected in NC counties.
With these findings, it is not safe to underestimate the extent of PFAS contamination. There are several water issues that the NC government should resolve. One is the exposures south of the Chemours facility. Next is the very high levels of PFAS contamination in rivers like Deep and Haw. Needless to say, North Carolina is indeed at risk of major environmental and health problems if water quality remains as is.
THE SOURCE OF PFAS CONTAMINATION
In previous research, it has been continually forenamed that PFAS contamination is from the sources of wastewater. This, for a fact, is true because the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) even confirmed that PFAS contaminates drinking water through routes of wastewater. However, wastewater may not be the only route there is.
The researches conducted by DEQ's Division of Air Quality show that some PFAS combines with air particles that fall back to earth in water. This is perhaps one of the explanations for how these forever chemicals contaminate groundwater miles from the source. In addition, this also explains how the Cape Fear River got contaminated.
The North Carolina Department estimated high levels of PFAS in rainwater tests and experiments up to 30 kilometers away from the plant. To resolve this issue, the Department of Environmental Quality made it compulsory for Chemours to diminish overall GenX air discharges. Moreover, they were also required to provide permanent replacement drinking water supplies for those people living in the surrounding communities. You could look at it as their way of compensating the impacted residents.
THE STUDY OF CHEMICAL GENX
GenX is a Chemours brand name for a synthetic organofluorine substance compound. Mainly, it is the ammonium salt of hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer corrosive (HFPO-DA). As the conducting of research continues, it was revealed that Genx exposure to residents near the Lower Cape Fear River basin was relatively mild. In fact, the research shows that Genx exposure came so little due to its very short half-life, or breakdown time. This result was particularly drawn from North Carolinians' blood tests who participated in the study.
However, the researchers have detected other newly identified PFAS, which makes the water unsafe still. There is a newly identified PFAS called Hydro-Eve found in most people's blood samples. Currently, there are no toxicology reports released, and therefore no clear indication of what it can do to human health.
THE CONCERNS OF THE COMMUNITY
Having clean and reliable drinking water is now the community's primary concern. People across the state were gravely affected by the current water issues. In resolution to this, proper authorities assigned a panel of people working on the frontlines in their communities to minimize water health risks. This includes a Riverkeeper from Cape Fear River Watch to monitor the water systems. In addition, there is also an assigned environmental outreach programs manager to oversee implementations and regulations. Lastly, there is a person assigned to represent the New Hanover Health Department in each area.
Needless to say, community groups are very engaged with the water issues and help hand-in-hand in resolving them. While this is a very unfortunate incident, it still fostered dialogue between the people and the authorities. Many people started caring for the environment, in hopes and in fear that dirty water supply will continue to flow from the watersheds.
THE CURRENT WATER CRISIS IN NORTH CAROLINA
With North Carolina's current water crisis, the residents were a halt to receive easy access to clean drinking water. The rampant contamination of the region’s drinking water supply continued to scare people of health risks, interjecting in 2017 after so many years. After all, PFAS contamination including the chemical GenX contains toxic components that are known to have negative effects on human health. Dating to 2021, the Cape Fear River watershed continued to show signs of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the water content.
These PFAS chemicals primarily originate from DuPont and Chemours plants both continuously dump toxic chemicals into the river, a practice that has been ongoing for more than 4 decades. Hence, the repercussions of this contamination have also lingered on for so long and continued to grow despite various measures conducted by the authorities. These man-made chemicals have also continued to cause perversions to over a hundred thousand North Carolinians.
THE TRUTH ABOUT PFAS
PFAS is not always a bad thing and is in fact used in various everyday products. This may include nonstick pans, rugs and carpets, food wrappers, stain repellents, and water-resistant cloth wear. But that's just about it, PFAS mixing in with water is an entirely different story. That, for a fact, makes PFAS synthetic compounds dangerous to human health, the environment, and overall surroundings. Moreover, PFAS does not biodegrade or break down in the environment, which, in exchange, bioaccumulates in the bodies of humans and animals.
In the results revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PFAS is present in the blood samples of nearly every American. This is the aftermath of breathing contaminated air, eating contaminated food, and ultimately, drinking PFAS-contaminated water. What's worse, the less privileged have greater risks of PFAS exposure due to the economic availability of non-polluted water facilities. Furthermore, low-income people are more likely to eat fast food meals that are wrapped in PFAS packaging.
Not only that but they are also exposed to rental units with PFAS-laden carpeting. While drinking from contaminated water supplies is a major concern of every North Carolinian, high-income people have the easy option of buying bottled water or setting up expensive filtration systems at home to eradicate PFAS contaminants from the water. As you can see, it is so much worse for people down the societal class.
According to the CDC report of 2021, PFAS exposure has negative indications for human health. It can be a cause of thyroid issues, fertility concerns, asthma, and many more illnesses. To date, many people cried about concerns about PFAS contamination, which may have led to them being lethally ill. According to recent testimonies, PFAS content in water is the reason why they contracted grave diseases in the first place. In addition, several members of the community held out photographs and spoke through the agony about their serious health issues, blaming the North Carolina water supply for their sufferings.
The people got even more enraged because other states like Michigan and New York started implementing PFAS limitations on water supplies. On the contrary, North Carolina has not done even the bare minimum of protecting its people. While they passed three bills related to water regulation, they failed to advance them; causing the health-impact issues to get out of hand as the water crisis continued to prevail.
In conclusion, North Carolina has been experiencing burnt bridges over troubled water — in a literal sense. The PFAS problem present in water systems has escalated into a national concern that affects millions of lives in one go. After all, contaminated drinking water calls for greater concerns of environmental problems, health issues, and overall life quality that a North Carolinian can attain.
While the NC Government is trying to resolve these issues as much as they can, the residents can't still confidently vouch for their proposed resolution; as they are moving rather slowly and timidly. Now, if the North Carolina water supply meets no good changes, what are the odds that the people will eventually achieve the basic human right of easy access to clean and high-quality drinking water?