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National nonprofit raises concerns about Asheville’s drinking water

By Web staff

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Asheville residents who drink water from their tap might want to consider data that shows elevated levels of nine potentially toxic contaminants, including the man-made synthetic chemical PFAS.

“Cancer is just one among many potential causes of harm of PFAS,” said Sydney Evans, a scientific analyst for Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Environmental Working Group. “We have found PFAS in drinking water across the United States, including in Asheville.”

PFAS, short for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, has become known as a compound that doesn’t break down and, once ingested, can stay in the human body forever. It’s been used by consumer manufacturers in non-stick Teflon-coated pans, paints and consumer product packaging. Manufacturers also use the toxic compound in production at plants.

Even in small amounts, PFAS has been linked to human cancers, scientists have reported.

“PFAS is linked to liver toxicity cancer and harm to fetal development,” Evans said. “PFAS is a big one right now because there is no legal requirement to monitor for it.”

Evans and other environmental health critics are pressing the EPA to enact some minimum standard level for drinking water nationwide. Doing that, she said, would put the focus on manufacturers to do more to reduce the use of PFAS in consumer products and manufacturing.

Wilmington has been the site of the highest profile scandal over PFAS contamination by companies dumping it into rivers that supply city residents with drinking water.

The fight originated from contamination of the Cape Fear River by Chemours and DuPont. For decades, the two chemical makers contaminated the state’s largest river system with PFAS being emitted from their chemical plant outside Fayetteville.

EWG’s national map was highlighted in national coverage of PFAS and the impact it can have on human health. An interactive map on EWG’s website shows blue dots across Western North Carolina for cities the nonprofit reports as having concerning PFAS compounds.

The interactive map allows users to zoom in on a town and read about PFAS levels.

EWG also has a link that shows eight elevated compounds beyond PFAS it’s concerned about in Asheville’s drinking water. A number of those listed have links to causing cancer, EWG said.

City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller provided the following responses to EWG’s concerns about PFAS:

We do not test for PFAS on a regular basis as it is not required by the EPA. The water department has, independent of regulation, monitored PFAS in the past. We believe that testing our source water will help ensure any future adjustments, needed to meet new EPA standards, can be made easily and efficiently. The city of Asheville is proud of its record in meeting and or exceeding current EPA standards.”

Miller went into further detail about testing history for Asheville’s water supply:

We have tested for PFAS, under the UCMR regulation, in 2015. There was no detection at any of the three city of Asheville water treatment plants. We again tested in 2019, participating in a study with Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill. At that time, the North Fork and DeBruhl facilities had no positive traces. Our Mills River plant showed slight traces, so low the testing facility said results could be due to cross-contamination. The city of Asheville uses UCMR (unregulated contaminant monitoring rule) on a five-year cycle.”

Miller said, after finding elevated PFAS levels in 2019, the city established a monitoring system for every two-to-three years. Miller said the PFAS level was well below the EPA health effect standard in 2019.

However, Evans, with Environmental Work Group, said the EPA doesn’t impose a PFAS requirement for levels on any cities nationwide. She said the best way to reduce risks of human contamination is to buy a water filter system. EWP has links to recommendations on its website.

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