Greensboro Looks For Ways To Reduce Potentially Harmful Chemicals In Drinking Water

Greensboro Looks For Ways To Reduce Potentially Harmful Chemicals In Drinking Water

4:36pm Jun 28, 2018
An aerial photo of one of Greensboro's water plants. This is the Mitchell facility located close to downtown. Picture courtesy of the City of Greensboro.

Leaders in Greensboro are looking at ways to reduce some potentially harmful chemicals in the city’s drinking water.

New testing suggests the contaminants may be more widespread than previously thought, and coming from multiple sources, including an area around the Piedmont Triad International Airport.

WFDD’s Keri Brown is following the story. She talked with reporter David Ford about the findings and what the city is doing to reduce the compound levels.

Interview Highlights

What can you tell us about the chemicals that have been found in Greensboro’s drinking water supply?

They are perfluorinated compounds known as PFOA and PFOS. They have been used for decades for various industrial purposes and in commercial products like nonstick cookware, food packaging and water repellent clothing.

When did the city first become aware of the chemicals?

In 2014. The EPA had previously made some changes to a rule that required municipalities to report monitoring results for chemicals like these. That’s when the city found the compounds in the drinking water.  It raised some red flags and the city began addressing the issue. The chemicals were found throughout the distribution system and at the point of entry from the city’s water treatment plants.

Do they know the source?

The city’s investigation has led them to the Western part of Greensboro, to the area around the Piedmont Triad International Airport. This is where firefighters and emergency responders have used foams for years. The foam contained these compounds. The foam helps smother petroleum-based fires and can even be used for cleanup purposes. Greensboro is home to one of the largest repositories for refined petroleum products in the United States, so there have been a lot of emergency drills and training around this site.

But recent tests in the area around the airport have raised more questions about other sources. High levels, some almost twice as high as what the EPA’s health guidelines are, have been detected in wells around the airport, so city officials are looking at possible multiple sources and they are continuing to study this issue. When groundwater gets contaminated that makes its way into waterways.

What is the city doing to reduce the amount of chemicals in their drinking water?

I spoke with Michael Borchers with the Greensboro's Water Resources Division.

He says he’s confident the city’s drinking water is safe because samples collected since 2016 have been below the EPA’s [PFOS/PFOA] guidelines. Regardless, he says city leaders are being as proactive as possible, even if they don’t have guidance from the EPA or the state. That means they plan to invest in water treatment technologies and continue working with stakeholders and industries to find better ways to handle and dispose of the contaminants.

They have also changed how often they test water samples. A couple of months ago they decided to test on a monthly basis instead of quarterly.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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