Pittsboro BOC considers PFAS contamination, zoning and development requests

Posted 10/14/20

PITTSBORO ­­— Pittsboro’s Board of Commissioners considered updated research on PFAS water contamination and its implications for the town before addressing a rezoning request and a …

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Pittsboro BOC considers PFAS contamination, zoning and development requests

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PITTSBORO ­­— Pittsboro’s Board of Commissioners considered updated research on PFAS water contamination and its implications for the town before addressing a rezoning request and a stormwater agreement for Chatham Park during its meeting Monday at town hall.

Linda Birdbaum, Ph.D., a Duke University Scholar in Residence and Scientist Emeritus for two national science organizations, attended the meeting as a special guest. She is an expert on PFAS — Perfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals collectively known as potential carcinogens — and its health ramifications. In her presentation to the board, she discussed the pollutant’s implications for Pittsboro residents.

“The problem with PFAS is these are extremely environmentally persistent,” she said. “They don’t degrade environmentally ever and many of these can pass through waste water treatment plants. That’s part of the problem that we’re all dealing with related to the Haw (River).”

Pittsboro is the only town which draws its drinking water from the Haw, Birdbaum pointed out. But there are more conduits by which PFAS can enter the human body than just water.

“Some of them get into our food chain,” Birdbaum said, “whether its fish swimming in the rivers that we then ingest, or because of the heavy use of PFAS in food packaging, in consumer products. It’s in our clothes, on our carpets, on our shoes, on our umbrellas — you name it.”

Why it matters

PFAS contamination comes with a staggering list of adverse health effects. The problem is worsening as new versions within the chemical family elude previously effective filtration systems, according to Birdbaum.

• “PFAS are multi-system toxicants,” she said. “They affect lots of different organs in our bodies: thyroid, immune, liver, pancreas, kidney, cancer, our reproductive organs, neuro-development. This is not the full list; there is evidence of other impacts as well.”

• Older versions of the chemical could “be removed by charcoal filtration … But when you move to the new ones, the short chain ones, they are very poorly removed by charcoal filtration.”

• Only more expensive and complicated solutions like reverse osmosis have been shown to be effective in minimizing recent PFAS contamination from drinking water.

The bottom line

Pittsboro is subject to higher PFAS exposure than most American towns and the problem may prove disastrous for its residents when a coronavirus vaccine is developed.

“Let’s just say, people in Pittsboro … their average (PFAS) levels are considerably higher than the American population as a whole,” Birdbaum said. “There have been a number of studies done that have shown the ability of PFAS to suppress the ability of the body to respond to a vaccination. So, in the time of COVID, I find that kind of concerning.”

The board of commissioners has recognized the gravity of the water contamination problem in Pittsboro. In late 2019, it appointed a Water Quality Task Force to address the presence of unregulated chemicals in the town’s water supply. In a May 11 meeting, the group reported that it was “in the process of compiling suggested in-home reverse osmosis treatment systems.” Task Force Chairperson Katie Bryant announced in Monday’s meeting that her team had completed its research.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done,” she said. “We worked extremely hard to deliver a report that’s full of data, suggestions and a way ahead for the town.”

The board was pleased with the announcement but postponed a full debriefing to afford the commissioners time to review the 13-page report. The report will be made available to the public on the town’s website.

Those interested in learning more about PFAS levels in Pittsboro may also attend a town hall meeting on October 24, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., which will examine the results of a recent Duke University study on Pittsboro and Haw River PFAS exposure.

Other action

The board approved rezoning of nearly 200 acres to accommodate a new housing development and accepted a stormwater agreement for Chatham Park.

• The rezoned property is 192.72 acres of land near Old Graham Rd., 10 minutes north of downtown. A developer, Rexford Landing, LLC, first requested the town rezone the land to permit construction of a new community at a public hearing on Jan. 27. The commissioners deliberated twice more in February and August before deciding on Monday to approve the request pending modification to Rexford’s proposal. Among the board’s stipulations was an increased donation to the Town of Pittsboro Affordable Housing fund from $595,000 to $788,800.

• The board approved Chatham Park’s overall Master Stormwater Control Measures Operations & Maintenance Agreement, an important step in the project’s ongoing development.


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