On July 29, scientists found water from Greensboro’s Mitchel Water Treatment Plant to have high levels of a chemical known as Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) for the third year in a row.
PFOS is an industrial chemical on the Environmental Protection Agency’s watch list and is suspected of creating health problems and causing damage to organisms developing in the womb when consumed over time. Though PFOS is on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s watch list, there are no nationwide safety standards governing its release into the environment.
PFOS is in the same chemical family as GenX, another man-made substance that was found in drinking water in NC’s southeastern region. GenX made the news after researchers found high levels of the substance in Wilmington’s water supply after the discovery that GenX had been released from a chemical plant in Fayetteville into the Cape Fear River. The chemical’s uses range from lining bags of microwave popcorn to protecting carpets from stains.
Environmental regulators made chemical manufacturers phase out PFOS production nearly 15 years ago but it remains in use in some products. Once it has been released in the environment, it becomes very resilient against elimination efforts.
Greensboro first tested its drinking water for PFOS in 2014 during a nationwide EPA directive. PFOS traces were at concerning levels in water treated by the Mitchell plant at Battleground Avenue and Benjamin Parkway, which is supplied by both Higgins and Brandt lake.
Steve Drew, Greensboro Water Resources Director, has said that city officials and private consultants have been looking for the local source of PFOS, but there has not been any success yet.
“We’re doing a CSI-type investigation in the watershed upstream of Lakes Higgins and Brandt,” Drew said on the subject.
The Environmental Protection Agency has only flagged two cities for elevated PFOS levels from 2013 to 2015: Greensboro and Pinehurst.
“The DEQ communicated with both communities. Pinehurst took the well with PFOS offline permanently and the EPA is directly involved in tracking Greensboro’s efforts to reduce the levels of the man-made compounds,” said Sarah Young, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Though Greensboro’s waters have not been tested for the GenX chemical, Greensboro is making efforts to reduce the amount of PFOS in its waters. The DEQ and the EPA will be working with Greensboro and surrounding areas until the water is clear.