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PWC says stricter PFAS regulations will come with $73 million price tag for water filtration

Local utility’s technology upgrades expected to boost rates for consumers


Before water comes out of the faucet at homes across Fayetteville, it goes through filtration at the city Public Works Commission’s two water plants, where it’s treated to ensure it is safe to drink.

“That’s where the water actually flows through there,” said Del Coffman, PWC senior operator, while leading aa CityView reporter on a tour of the P.O. Hoffer Water Treatment Plant. “It makes its way through the filters.”

Before going through those filters, the water is pumped from the Cape Fear River. The plant filters parasites, bacteria, viruses and other hazards from the river water. Soon, the plants are likely to begin more intense filtering for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are found in many consumer goods such as carpet, clothing, fabrics and paper food packaging. The chemical company Chemours and its predecessor, DuPont, at their Bladen County chemical plant, have manufactured various PFAS including the notorious GenX, a trade name for one PFAS.

Though the Chemours plant is downstream from Fayetteville, PFAS is found in the part of the Cape Fear River that PWC pumps from.

During CityView’s tour of the plant, Coffman took samples of water to test it for PFAS content, a process that Coffman does quarterly.

Last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed new, much more stringent regulations on the amount of PFAS allowed in drinking water. The regulations, which are expected to go into effect later this year or early next year, will impose a significant cost on PWC and Fayetteville residents, CityView previously reported.

To meet these stringent regulations, PWC will be required to put in place new filtration technology at its plants. At a PWC meeting last month, interim CEO Mick Noland estimated the new technology will cost PWC $73 million to install. The cost to maintain the water treatment is estimated at $12 million annually.

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Noland said at the board meeting that this would mean rate increases for residents. That would be on top of recent rate increases attributed to inflationary pressures. PWC estimates that next month, rates will increase monthly costs by nearly $13 for the typical household, CityView reported.

And because of high demand, the costs of installing and maintaining the filtration technology could increase as water treatment facilities across the country are required to meet the proposed EPA regulations. Any federal funding to subsidize that cost will be competitive.

“Everybody’s going to be competing for that money,” said PWC community relations officer Carolyn Justice-Hinson during the tour of the Hoffer plant.

Despite the cost of treatment, many, including Justice-Hinson, say the regulations are necessary to protect public health. Older PFAS that predate GenX, PFOA and PFOS, have been linked to testicular, kidney and other types of cancers in laboratory animals, studies show.

“It’s going to be costly, but it’s a good thing,” Justice-Hinson said, adding that regulations are the first step to getting PFAS out of the water.

“Before you could do something, but if you didn’t know what your target was and what your goal was, it was just kind of like a shot in the dark,” Justice-Hinston continued. “That's what we depend on the EPA for, is to do that research and provide that guidance for everybody.”

More needs to be done, however, to remove PFAS contamination, Justice-Hinson said. She said Chemours and other companies need stricter regulation from the state and federal governments, something PWC has and continues to push for.

“We can’t really impact directly getting it out of the water. That’s where our regulators could help,” Justice-Hinson said. “If we were chipping away at both sides of it, it would be a much better solution, especially for the ratepayers. Unfortunately, they’re the ones that will be bearing the cost.”

In 2017, the Wilmington StarNews first reported that N.C. State University researchers had found GenX and other PFAS at high concentrations in the Cape Fear River and in public drinking water downstream from the Bladen County site toward Wilmington.

Following the study, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch and the North Carolina state government, filed a lawsuit in 2019 that requires Chemours to address PFAS contamination of air, soil, groundwater and surface waters.

Coffman is the senior operator at PWC’s other plant, the Glenville Lake Water Treatment Plant. Quarterly, he collects samples from both plants and sends them for testing for PFAS content.

Justice-Hinson said she feels better about the safety of PWC’s water knowing that Coffman and other PWC employees are doing their best to ensure the safety and drinkability of the water.

“They’re drinking it too. Their families are drinking it. So, they’re doing everything in their power to make sure it’s as safe as it can be, and it always makes me feel better,” Justice-Hinson said.

Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at bsessoms@cityviewnc.com.



Fayetteville, Public Works Commission, water, utility rates, PFAS, Chemours