PWC to Upgrade Water Treatment to Remove PFAS

PWC’s top priority is providing safe, high-quality drinking water that meets or exceeds all current regulatory standards. We are committed to continued advocacy to prevent PFAS from being discharged into our source water so that we can eliminate the exposure and financial burden for our customers.

It has been well reported that the predominant source of emerging compounds is the use of/and manufacturing of products including cosmetics, shampoos, paints, food packaging, cleaning, stain and stick resistance products.

Prior to the EPA announcing proposed PFAS drinking water standards in 2023, there had been no established regulatory limits for PFAS in drinking water.  However, for nearly 10 years, PWC has advocated with regulatory agencies to reduce and prevent the discharge of industrial pollution/PFAS into the Cape Fear River, our primary drinking water source.   While PFAS are present in our source water, the EPA says 70% of a consumer’s exposure to emerging compounds comes from non-drinking water sources.

A recent media story reported PFAS levels in our water using a home testing kit and, in a manner, not consistent with EPA reporting.   Our testing is analyzed by an EPA-certified Laboratory and is compliant with EPA methods.   Our levels are far closer to the EPA limits being proposed.

PWC has had ongoing education and provided customers testing results and our efforts to respond to the PFAS threat.  This information has been reported in our customer communications, our annual water quality report, on our website, and local media reports. 

We understand the public’s desire for swift action to remove PFAS.  It is important to know that a water treatment upgrade is a major infrastructure investment and is not an off-the shelf solution.  The upgrade must be designed specifically for each of our drinking water plants.  The planned water treatment upgrade required studies to determine the most effective method for PWC.  We conducted this study between October 2021-October 2022 and determined the Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) media/method to be the most effective in removing PFAS.

CityView News reported on our planned water treatment facility upgrade which is in response to removing PFAS. This was presented in an open Commission meeting on Jan. 10, 2024.

As this upgrade is being designed and built to help us meet new EPA Drinking Water standards, we have been actively working to upgrade our current Powder Activated Carbon (PAC) treatment capabilities to allow a higher dosage than is currently possible.  While PAC is not as efficient or economical as GAC, it can effectively remove modest amounts of PFAS and it will assist us in addressing PFAS until GAC, which is the best solution, can be installed.

PAC construction begins this spring and is expected to be completed by April 2026.  Our GAC upgrade is expected to be operational by February 2028. 

As has been reported, upgrading our plants with the GAC to remove these industrial pollutants, will be a significant cost to our customers, with a projected cost of around $80 million.

While planning for these upgrades, staff has also sought out funding to reduce the financial burden on our customers.  We have just been notified that we have received more than $30.5 million in funding for our GAC upgrades.  This includes $11.5 million in grants from federal infrastructure and state drinking water revolving funds.  $19 million is a low interest loan from state drinking water revolving funds.

In addition, we continue to seek other funding. We are currently working with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality representatives to request an additional $18 million that includes a potential $9.7 million toward our PAC facility upgrades.  We will also actively continue pursuing federal and state funds for the remaining $49.5 million needed for the GAC upgrade.