Officials from the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) recently hosted an all-day community engagement and listening event in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The intent of the event was to have a conversation with residents of the city about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and the negative impact they could have on health if irresponsibly introduced to the environment.
The event was made up of two meetings that were both open to the public. One was made up of three discussions featuring relevant authorities and officials such as EPA representatives and scientists, and the other featured an opportunity for the public to directly speak to relevant individuals.
Some officials sought to understand the public perception of this problem and its impact on the community before continuing work that has been done on the creation of a management plan. The management plan is meant to address and begin to undo the damage that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances have done to the environment and public health, especially in North Carolina.
In the state, one such substance called Gen X is the subject of scrutiny and public discourse already.
Attendees of the meeting urged active participation in resolving this dangerous and environmentally damaging situation. One of the voices urging a more rigorous role for the EPA to play in this and future situations similar to it was Michael Reagan, Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality. Reagan specifically asked for research into and the development of a method to identify PFAS compounds that would work nationwide, and for tools and processes that more efficiently analyze the toxicity of chemicals.
Another voice in the conversation was that of Carel Vandermeyden, the director of engineering at Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in Wilmington. Vandermeyden’s comments were proactive instead of reactive, and what he said was that instead of waiting until water has been contaminated by these chemicals to be treated, solutions should involve heightening regulations on them in order to urge and ensure that companies to handle them more cautiously in the first place.
The EPA in North Carolina has been actively working with state agencies to address and attempt to undo harm related to Gen X chemicals in the area through the Cape Fear river for years. This chemical is itself a PFAS substance. The plant wherein it is produced is located in Fayetteville.
Some people are worried that Gen X chemicals in the plant have contaminated the water and that this is responsible for a health crisis that could potentially affect anyone who drinks the water from the Cape Fear river.
Efforts by the EPA to gain a better understanding of this situation and of the impact of PFAS compounds on public health are not limited to listening to feedback from the public. Peter Grevatt, who directs the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, has revealed that agency officials are developing methods of addressing GenX and other compounds like it, as well as PFAS chemicals.
These methods include collaborating with state officials for the creation of a toxicity standard that isn’t meant to be enforceable, but rather to better understand what levels of PFAS chemicals can be in the water before the water becomes dangerous to consume or otherwise use.