Study To Examine How PFAS Chemicals Persist In Water Supplies

Jul 19, 2019

One of the sites included in the PFAS study is the Cape Fear River, where GenX from an upstream manufacturing site ended up in the Wilmington water supply.
Credit Keith Weston / WUNC

A study out of Michigan examining the persistence of chemicals like PFAS in drinking water could have repercussions for communities in North Carolina.

Scientists from the University of Michigan, North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of Colorado are studying whether water treatment is enough to remove PFAS from public water supplies, or if governmental agencies need to do more to limit exposure.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s.

Once a water source is contaminated, the chemicals are persistent, so water used in agriculture can result in PFAS in milk, vegetables, and wildlife.

Researchers want to know to what extent PFAS accumulates in food, and how it migrates through soil into groundwater. They'll examine three areas impacted by PFAS contamination, including North Carolina's Cape Fear River where the chemical GenX spread from a manufacturing plant upstream into the river, which is the main drinking water source for the city of Wilmington.

The study is funded by a $1.9 million dollar grant from the EPA.