WATER QUALITY TASK FORCE

Breaking: Pittsboro group proposes solutions to town’s PFAS contamination

Fixes expected to ‘be complicated and ... require many points of view and expertise’

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 10/23/20

PITTSBORO — The Pittsboro Water Quality Task Force — a 17-person team of experts assembled by the town’s board of commissioners last November to assess “unregulated contaminants in the Haw River and the appropriate response thereto” — has finalized its report and submitted a recommended action plan to the town.

The News + Record is worth reading!

We’re all about Chatham County, and we welcome you to our site. You can view up to 3 stories each month, then registration is required.

Please sign in below if you have an account. If not, please register here to get an account and an additional 7 stories each month. It’s easy and takes just a minute.

Our staff works hard to bring good journalism, writing and story-telling to Chatham County. HELP US! You can get the News + Record mailed to you weekly by subscribing here.

Please log in to continue

Log in
WATER QUALITY TASK FORCE

Breaking: Pittsboro group proposes solutions to town’s PFAS contamination

Fixes expected to ‘be complicated and ... require many points of view and expertise’

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.

Posted

PITTSBORO — The Pittsboro Water Quality Task Force — a 17-person team of experts assembled by the town’s board of commissioners last November to assess “unregulated contaminants in the Haw River and the appropriate response thereto” — has finalized its report and submitted a recommended action plan to the town.

The town’s board of commissioners isn’t expected to evaluate the report until its Nov. 23 meeting.

Why it matters

PFAS — Perfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals known as potential carcinogens — were discovered in Chatham County’s water and identified as a serious public health threat to its residents in 2018. Since then, the News + Record has reported frequently on developing research into the contaminant’s prevalence in Chatham County towns, most notably Pittsboro. With the PWQTF’s formation, the town officially sponsored efforts to address the PFAS problem. The team’s findings could represent a bridge from research and analysis to commensurate action.

Here is a breakdown of the report’s most important takeaways:

Pittsboro’s situation is grim, but not irreversible.

• “The Town of Pittsboro will face many challenges related to water resources over the coming years,” the report said, “all of which will be complicated and will require many points of view and expertise.”

The town’s PFAS contamination is among the worst in the state. The most recent available research found PFAS levels of 844.8 parts per trillion (ppt) in the Haw River at Pittsboro’s water intake point. For some perspective, Cary — which draws its water from Jordan Lake — measured 110.6 ppt. And parts of northern and eastern Chatham County, which source water from Durham’s Lake Michie and the Jordan Lake, had just 65.4 ppt.

The most effective way to address contamination in the water supply would be to stop it at the source, the report concluded. But that may be unrealistic.

“There are multiple known sources of contamination stemming from within the municipalities of Reidsville, Burlington and Greensboro,” the report said.

It is improbable those municipalities can significantly adjust their industries to minimize PFAS runoff. A more likely long-term solution to the town’s water contamination is for Pittsboro to continue ongoing development of a regional water treatment plant designed to service a four-partner coalition called the Western Intake Partners.

The four partners are Pittsboro, Durham, Chatham County and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. Together they are collaborating on plans to construct a water treatment plant at Jordan Lake’s western shore.

But there is a problem: the plant, if it is built, will not be operational until 2031.

Therefore, the report said, “while (the water treatment plant) should be pursued, it will not adequately and urgently address the immediate emerging contamination problem.”

Fortunately, viable short-term options exist to ameliorate the situation in the interim. Reverse osmosis has been shown to filter PFAS from water. The task force, therefore, suggested that Pittsboro front the cost to install reverse osmosis filtration systems across the county at public locations and in private homes.

“The recommended immediate solution for the Town of Pittsboro,” the report said, “is to provide RO fill stations, RO installation rebate programs for low income families, discounted RO systems for renters, homeowners and businesses and RO point-of-use filters for the three public schools within Town limits.”

It added: “All short-term options should be free to qualifying low income individuals. And those who don’t qualify for a fully-funded option will still be eligible for a significant discount.”

Finally, the committee suggested that Pittsboro establish a program of transparency and education to keep residents abreast of the town’s progress in addressing the issue.

“This recommendation seeks to establish trust in the community by providing guidance and assistance from town government on the threat to our water and our health,” the report said.

An important disclaimer

The PWQTF report portends a solution to Pittsboro’s dire situation, but it would be premature to conclude that action will immediately ensue. The board of commissioners has not yet convened to discuss its reception of the group’s recommendations or to potentially endorse the plan of action.

“I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that our town board of commissioners has not provided any consent to this report aside from its commissioning,” Town Manager Chris Kennedy told the News + Record. “The Task Force was established at the direction of our board, but this report was just placed in the hands of the board this week, so they have not had the necessary time to review, critique and accept its findings.”

More information

The task force members are: Karla Stone Eanes; Bill Holman; Becky Smith; Adam Pickett; Daniel Ayers; Bett Foley, Emily Sutton; Hugh Harrington; Mark Williams; Chris Atack; Kevin Russell; Karen Strazza; Karen Styres; Katie Bryant; Hunter Freeman; Jennifer Platt; and Lori Cramer.

Their 31-page report is available online here. Note that it contains several hundred pages of supplementary research. On Saturday, The Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment and the Haw River Assembly will host a virtual town hall meeting to discuss a recent study of PFAS exposures. You can join via Zoom here

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Subscribe to The Chatham Brew now to get the latest news from Chatham County straight to your inbox.

* indicates required
/ ( mm / dd )

Get your digital subscription today.

Access all content on our website, including our e-edition, at a discounted rate while also being environmentally friendly.

Get your 1-year digital subscriptions for only $39.
That's just 10¢ per day for the great coverage of your local news!

Subscribe now