North Carolina regulators detect toxic perfluorinated compound at Raleigh site

North Carolina regulators detect toxic perfluorinated compound at Raleigh site

- in Environment, Top Story
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Rainwater monitoring conducted by state environmental regulators shows one detection of a type of a toxic perfluorinated compound at a Raleigh monitoring site last spring.

PFBA, a product of stain- and grease-proof coatings on food packaging, couches and carpets, was found at a level of 7.4 parts per trillion (ppt) on May 29, 2018.

Last year, DEQ began measuring background levels PFAS in rainwater at more than three sites statewide: Asheville, Candor and Raleigh. An additional three have been added this year: Washington, Wilmington and Mooresville, with a fourth station scheduled for Winston-Salem next week.

The background monitoring sites were selected based on locations of DEQ regional offices.

The initial round of data shows concentrations of 28 other types of PFAS were not detected.

However, a full year of data will be required for regulators to establish a baseline.

DEQ began conducting the sampling after it discovered GenX and other PFAS in private drinking water wells near the Chemours plant in Fayetteville. Regulators then determined air emissions were the source of the contamination in groundwater and drinking water. Chemours had emitted more than a ton of GenX and other PFAS into the air in 2017.

PFAS have also been detected in rainwater and surface water in parts of the state far from Chemours: Jordan Lake in the Triangle, Lake Michie in Durham and in Wilmington. Scientists believe rain and wind can carry these compounds far from the source.

A consent order recently signed among DEQ, Chemours and Cape Fear River Watch requires the company to install a thermal oxidizer and scrubber system to eliminate 99.9 percent of PFAS from air emissions.

Secretary Michael Regan has asked for more than $6 million and an addition of 37 full-time equivalent positions to address the statewide problem of emerging compounds, including not only PFAS but 1,4 dioxane, as well as pharmaceuticals in wastewater and drinking water.

Secretary of the Environment Michael Regan

This appropriation would pay for additional personnel to conduct in-house sampling and analysis to identify the sources of the contamination. Regan has requested another $336,000 for a mobile lab that can be deployed during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, to test water and get municipal systems back online as quickly as possible.

Regan laid out the agency’s budgetary requests this morning to the state legislature’s Joint Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Andy Wells, a Republican who represents Alexander and Catawba counties, asked if DEQ’s proposal duplicated the PFAS monitoring the NC Policy Collaboratory is conducting. A consortium of university researchers, administrators and scientists, the Collaboratory was created and funded by the legislature several years ago to do environmental work, even in tandem with DEQ. Last year, lawmakers appropriated $5 million to the group but cut the DEQ budget.

Regan told Wells that the Collaboratory can do the preliminary investigations, but should turn over that data to the department. “By law we have to investigate” those findings, Regan said, and some of those duties are delegated to the state by the EPA.

DEQ has worked with the Collaboratory already, especially during the government shutdown, when the state could get no assistance from the EPA.

The EPA will likely be even more hobbled by a proposed 30 percent cut in the federal budget, some of that in the water division.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Regan said.

Other nuggets from today’s environmental meetings: 

While the state Science Advisory Board finalizes its recommendation on acceptable levels of methyl bromide in the air, an emitter of the toxic compound says it’s leaving the state. EcoLab, which bought Royal Pest Solutions, had planned to install interim monitoring and emissions controls, Division of Air Quality Director Mike Abraczinskas told members of the state’s Environmental Management Commission.

Methyl bromide is a neurotoxic gas that can cause headaches, dizziness, heart and lung problems, and at high concentrations, convulsions, coma and death. Although banned internationally, there are exemptions for log fumigation facilities.

Under intense public and state regulatory pressure, Malec Brothers, which had proposed to emit up to 140 tons of methyl bromide per year at its log facility in Columbus County, has decided to use an alternative method of killing pests in their logs: debarking.

DEQ has placed all methyl bromide permits on hold while it and the Science Advisory Board establish a level for ambient air.

The agency met with EcoLab to discuss its proposals to restrict air emissions, Abraczinskas said, and the company agreed to submitting a monitoring plan.

Subsequently, Abrasczinskas said, the company “backed away from voluntarily monitoring” the pending new emissions rules for methyl bromide, and said it would leave North Carolina. EcoLab still operates at the Port of Wilmington.

EcoLab wouldn’t discuss how they operate these facilities in other states, Abraczinskas said.

Some states have more lenient emissions rules for methyl bromide, based on science from the 1960s and 1970s. There is no federal rule for methyl bromide.