Last week, we informed you about new federal efforts to measure and reduce PFAS contamination levels in drinking water. But there also are significant efforts to increase PFAS regulatory requirements at the state level, including in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) has announced a new initiative to address PFAS issues in the state. This initiative is outlined in NCDEQ’s June 2022 Action Strategy for PFAS. While the NCDEQ Action Strategy for PFAS does not include specific regulatory requirements or changes to enforcement, it does indicate the state’s focus on this particular issue.

The Action Strategy for PFAS identifies three core strategies:

  • Identifying and notifying North Carolinians who may be at risk of exposure to PFAS;
  • Setting PFAS regulatory standards and encouraging actions to prevent future PFAS pollution; and
  • Cleaning up existing PFAS contamination, particularly where it may impact drinking water.

NCDEQ already is testing public drinking water systems and private wells, and is prioritizing reporting of PFAS emissions into the air, surface water and groundwater. NCDEQ officials, in conjunction with the NC Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board, will create a list of the PFAS chemicals most frequently detected in the state. This research will help inform future PFAS regulation in North Carolina.

In the following weeks, NCDEQ is expected to propose groundwater standards for PFAS—a move that will impact 2.4 million North Carolinians. Such standards will target the following PFAS chemicals: PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS and PFBA.

Then, in late 2022-early 2023, NCDEQ will follow with proposed surface water standards, targeting lakes, streams and rivers. 

During this same time frame, NCDEQ plans to propose Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. The Action Strategy states the agency “will propose MCLs for priority PFAS in drinking water for the protection of human health, while also being technologically and economically feasible.”

Developing standards is the first step. The second stage of the Action Strategy calls for NCDEQ to modify environmental permits with enforceable limits of PFAS discharges. The Action Strategy calls for a nuanced approach of enforceable standards and incentives for voluntary action to achieve its regulatory goals. The focus will be on preventing and minimizing PFAS contamination.

NCDEQ and the North Carolina Collaboratory also recently announced a new research fellowship that will bring state regulators and university researchers together to “advance the science of PFAS” in the State.

Recent developments aren’t limited to the regulatory and compliance fronts—companies operating in North Carolina also need to be aware of a recent PFAS related lawsuit.

The City of Pittsboro has retained a national plaintiffs’ firm to seek recovery of its costs to address PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane contamination in the Haw River. The local industries that could be effected by such litigation were not disclosed in the city’s documents, but Pittsboro officials say they have spent $3.5 million to improve water treatment and may need to spend as much as $25 million more to remove PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane chemicals from its drinking water.

The Pittsboro litigation is still in its earliest stages, but it seems highly possible that other North Carolina cities may follow suit. 

PFAS are common chemicals found in a range of consumer products and used in a number of industrial processes. They often are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally over time. 

Please contact your Womble Bond Dickinson relationship attorney for more information about these issues.