PFAS in Coastal Waters
PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS are a group of chemicals that have been widely used in manufacturing since the 1940s. They are commonly found in water/grease-resistant products such as non-stick cookware, food wrappers, household products, and clothing, as well as in fire-fighting foams, and industrial processes.
PFAS are known as a “forever chemical” because they do not break down in the environment. They can travel through air, soil, surface water, and groundwater, and can accumulate in people, wildlife, and aquatic life.
According to the EPA, health complications associated with PFAS exposure can include cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions.
PFAS Update in NC
At the 2022 National PFAS conference, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Elizabeth Biser announced the formation of the DEQ Applied Research Fellowship in partnership with the North Carolina Collaboratory to address PFAS. CCRW Board Member and Duke University Associate Professor, Dr. Lee Ferguson, will serve as a 2022 fellow to assist DEQ with PFAS-related laboratory methods, data analysis, and field sampling, along with Dr. Jamie DeWitt from East Carolina University
“The Faculty Fellowship program is an outstanding collaboration between the NC Policy Collaboratory and the NC DEQ. It represents an opportunity for direct and substantive collaboration between academic researchers and state agency scientists and regulators, with the express goal of improving drinking water quality for all North Carolinians. The inaugural class of fellows includes internationally recognized leaders in the field of PFAS fate, effects, and analysis, and I’m honored to be included among these outstanding researchers. I look forward to working closely with Secretary Biser and her team in the fall as we strive to make NC’s drinking water the cleanest in the nation.”
-Dr. Lee Ferguson, Duke University Associate Professor, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch Board Director and PFAS Advisor
PFAS Research and Engagement Work
Waterkeeper Alliance released a groundbreaking new analysis (October 2022) of American waterways that sounds the alarm on a PFAS pollution emergency. In a test of 114 waterways from across the country, 83% were found to contain at least one type of PFAS.
Students (seen in the photo), from the Duke University Engage program, joined the White Oak Waterkeeper in PFAS sampling in the surface water up and down stream of Maysville on the White Oak River (2022).
In the samples taken by Coastal Carolina Riverwatch in the White Oak River, we found that the surface waters around Maysville NC did not have any detectable levels of PFAS, as of the summer of 2022.
When sharing the results of our sampling, the Town Manager of Maysville, Schumata Brown, said that he “is relieved to know the rivers are uncontaminated.“
The Town of Maysville has closed their drinking water well for the town and are currently receiving water from Jones County municipal water. The town has received a combined $6 million for infrastructure updates, including a new well and water treatment system. Mr. Brown let us know that the updates should be completed and running by the early summer of 2023.
In this unprecedented initiative, over 130 US waterways have now been tested for PFAS.
Read the full report here: https://waterkeeper.
White Oak River Basin PFAS Research
As part of a Waterkeepers Carolina coalition project, CCRW collected surface water samples all across the White Oak River Basin’s White Oak, New, Newport, and North rivers.
- Two samples were collected downstream of USAS New River in the SW Creek. – Oct 2022
- One sample downstream of Bogue Airfield in Bouge Sound, across from Emerald Isle. – Dec 2022
- One sample downstream of Onslow Landfill in the Blue Creek that runs through the City of Jacksonville – Dec 2022
- One sample downstream of the Newport Wastewater Treatment Plant outfall in Calico Creek. – Dec 2022
- One sample from the Beaufort Wastewater Treatment Plant outfall in Taylors Creek, across from Carrot Island. – Dec 2022
Based on this sampling in 2o22, the results show that there are detectable levels of PFOAs and PFOSs in the surface waters around the White Oak River Basin. The levels are relatively low compared to other places in the State, however some are still above the EPA and State standards.
Special thanks to our partners, City of Jacksonville Stormwater and Habitat Protection, and Deric Rush, WITN for covering the New River story.
If you would like to see the test results, please request them from Waterkeeper@coastalcarolinariverwatch.org
CCRW is participating in a study with the University of Florida. This research facility works on measuring per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in a wide variety of environmental matrices (e.g., soils, sediments, water, seagrasses, and various biota).
CCRW is participating in a study where we are measuring PFAS in coastal/riverbank foam (see pictures provided by Dr. John A. Bowden). Up until now, this group has been working exclusively in Florida. This is a new and unique opportunity to learn more about PFAS in the coastal waterways of NC.
For more information about these programs, please email Waterkeeper@coastalcarolinariverwatch.org