PFAS/1,4 DIOXANE INFORMATION
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are family of manmade chemicals used for more than 50 years to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Perfluorinated compounds like PFOS and PFOA are extremely stable and do not breakdown in the environment.
Common uses for PFAS include:
Customers can contact the department’s water quality laboratory at 336-222-5133 with any questions or concerns.
EPA Health Advisory Levels for Drinking Water - June 2022
PFAS are a family of man-made chemicals used for decades in products as diverse as cosmetics, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, non-stick coatings, firefighting foam, and waterproofing and stain resistant cloth. In the past several years, there has been growing concerns about their health effects.
While residents can weigh the risks of continued use of mascara, water-resistant fabric, pizza boxes, and non-stick skillets, the City of Burlington is actively working to ensure that the levels of PFAS City’s drinking water and wastewater effluent remain at the levels the EPA deems safe.
Burlington’s drinking water currently meets all federal and state regulations. In 2016, the EPA issued a Health Advisory level of 70 parts per trillion over a 70-year life span for PFOS and PFOA, two chemicals from the PFAS family. That means that a person who consumes a gallon of water with that level of PFAS every day for 70 years would have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of developing cancer. EPA Health Advisories provide guidance to state agencies and public health officials about the health effects associated with contaminants in drinking water. Health Advisories are not regulations and not enforceable.
For comparison, one part per trillion (PPT) is one drop of water within an Olympic-size swimming pool.
The City of Burlington’s drinking water easily meet this advisory level. At the JD Mackintosh Water Treatment Plant, the average combined PFOS and PFOA in drinking water is 3.16 PPT. At the Ed Thomas Water Treatment Plant, the average is 20 PPT.
In June of 2022, the EPA significantly lowered the Health Advisory to .02 part of PFOS per trillion and .004 parts of PFOA per trillion. Combined that is less than 1/10 of a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Current technology is only able to measure PFAS to about 4 parts per trillion so there is no way of reach the level of accuracy in this new Health Advisory. Drinking water providers across the nation are not meeting these advisory levels.
It is expected that the EPA will issue a regulation for PFAS-levels in the next year. The regulation level will be informed by the new (unmeasurable) Health Advisory level, but it is not expected to be as low.
The City of Burlington will contract with a consultant to help determine what new treatment processes and procedures need to be in place to ensure that the drinking water provided to residents remain in compliance with all state and federal regulations.
Another aspect of the PFAS conversation is the level of PFAS in the effluent discharged from the City’s two wastewater treatment plants. Wastewater also contains PFAS. Burlington, along with Greensboro and Reidsville, discharge effluent into the Haw River. Some communities downstream continue to draw their drinking water from the Haw River.
Burlington is committed to decreasing the levels of PFAS in our wastewater system. For the past two years, the City has partnered with the Haw River Assembly, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and PFAS experts from Duke University on a PFAS testing and sampling protocol that can provide a blueprint to municipalities around the state and the country.
The City has tested for PFAS in the sewer system to identify potential sources of PFAS before wastewater reaches the treatment plants. We have analyzed the various treatment procedures within the plants to determine their effects on PFAS loads. We have monitored the PFAS levels in the landfill leachate (liquid from landfills from rainwater and waste) that is processed through out wastewater treatment plants. We have also worked with our permitted industrial customers to lessen the amount of PFAS they emit to our Wastewater Treatment plants. One industry has completely removed their emissions from our waste stream, and another is 75% through a plan to alter their manufacturing process to significantly reduce the amount of PFAS in their wastewater.
All the sampling results for the City’s drinking water and wastewater can be found at below.
PFAS AND 1,4-DIOXANE TESTING PROGRAM
In October 2020, the City of Burlington and the Haw River Assembly entered into a Memorandum of Agreement formalizing Burlington’s commitment to analyze and examine potential sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and 1,4-dioxane compounds discharged from the City’s two Wastewater Treatment Plants. The conventional wastewater treatment processes and techniques typical for municipal wastewater treatment do not remove these emerging contaminants of concern. They pass through the treatment plants and are discharged with treated effluent. You can view the Memorandum of Agreement here. Read the joint Media Release with the Haw River Assembly about the Agreement here.
This sampling program focuses on treated wastewater, not on City of Burlington drinking water. The City’s drinking water consistently tests well below current US EPA health advisory levels for PFOA/PFOS.
The comprehensive analysis includes sampling the City’s industrial wastewater users, the City’s wastewater collection system, and its internal wastewater treatment plant processes. The goal is to identify potential sources of PFAS, 1,4-dioxane, and precursor compounds that may combine in a chemical reaction to form PFAS compounds. In the spirit of full transparency and cooperation, the agreement requires every sample taken to be ‘split’ with the Haw River Assembly for independent testing by their selected experts.
The City of Burlington is and always has been in compliance with its discharge permits issued by NCDEQ under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The City has contacted NCDEQ to identify if any of their testing or evaluations raise concerns with PFAS levels in City of Burlington Wastewater. The NCDEQ has raised none to date.
The City also values the input and advocacy of the Haw River Assembly. We believe that this good-faith, cooperative effort with the Assembly to identify potential sources of PFAS and 1,4-dioxane in wastewater can serve as a model for environmental partnership in North Carolina.