Perfluorinated Chemicals – TAWSMP Partner Research

Unregulated synthetic or naturally-occurring chemicals that are not commonly monitored by water utilities are termed contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). More than 85,000 chemicals are registered in the United States and new chemicals and microorganisms continue to be identified. Some of these contaminants can be detected at extremely low levels in the environment by continuously improving laboratory and analytical methods. The health significance of these trace contaminants is often under review and the subject of further study and research.

An example category of a contaminant of emerging concern is perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs. PFCs are organofluorine compounds containing only carbon-fluorine bonds, carbon-carbon bonds and other heteroatoms (no carbon-hydrogen bonds).  These chemicals are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water that are found in a large number of consumer products such as non-stick coating surface for pans and other cookware, fabric protectors, furniture, cosmetics, household cleaners, and packaged food containers. The brand names well-known are: Teflon, Stainmaster, Scotchgard, and SilverStone.

Recent testing has detected these chemicals in drinking water supplies in the Triangle and other areas of North Carolina. The fact that a substance is detectable doesn’t immediately mean that a substance is harmful to humans. For CECs of immediate concern, the EPA will issue a health advisory, which is based on the best available peer-reviewed studies about the health effects of the unregulated chemical. Health advisories provide information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. EPA’s health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to states agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water.  With modern laboratory methods, these substances can now be measured down to parts per trillion concentrations.  For comparison, 1 part per trillion is approximately the equivalent of one drop of water in 10 million gallons.

Triangle Area Water Supply Monitoring Project Partners understand the importance of responding to public concerns, as well as the need to fully understand the levels of these contaminants in our water supplies. Several Partners have completed or continue to perform sampling efforts for PFCs in their water systems. Below are links to monitoring, sampling, and analytical results for several TAWSMP Partners:

Read about the Town of Cary’s PFC sampling efforts and view analytical results here.

See the City of Durham’s PFC analytical results in Report 1 , Report 2.

Read about OWASA’s PFC sampling efforts and view analytical results here.

Read about Chatham County’s PFC sampling efforts and view analytical results here.

25-year Trends Report now Available!

As the population of the Triangle area in central North Carolina increases, the demand for good quality drinking water from streams and lakes within the upper Neuse and upper Cape Fear River Basins also increases. The U.S. Geological Survey examined temporal trends in water quality for 13 stream and 8 reservoir sites in the two basins on the basis of data collected during 1989–2013. Trends were analyzed using a fitted time-series model that accommodated for shifting trends and variations in streamflow at multiple time scales. Seventeen water-quality properties and constituents were evaluated, including specific conductance and major ions, nutrients, and organic carbon. Suspended solids and suspended sediment were examined at stream sites; chlorophyll a and Secchi transparency were examined at lake sites.

The investigation identified considerable changes in population, land cover, streamflow, and selected water-quality characteristics in the study area over the 25-year period. Water quality is influenced by multiple, often confounding factors, and thus may change in a non-uniform manner over time. Long-term monitoring is critical for tracking these trends and ensuring resiliency of water supplies for the future. Results from this study may promote the understanding of water-quality response to a growing population and land-cover changes and can assist water-resource managers in the Triangle area in tracking progress toward water-quality goals.

Take a look at the report here, and the data release here.

TAWSMP Wins Innovation Award

The Triangle Area Water Supply Monitoring Project recently received a 2017 National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Innovation Award. Each year, the Innovation Awards program honors NADO members for their creative approaches to advancing regional community and economic development and improved quality of life.  These projects have made significant impacts on their regions and demonstrate the diversity of services and program delivery provided by regional development organizations across the country. We are honored to accept this award!

2017 NADO Innovation Award Winners



The Research Triangle area, located within the upper Cape Fear and Neuse River basins, is one of the most rapidly developing areas in the Nation. Growth has increased demand for water from public suppliers, the majority of which draw water from streams and lakes in the region. Growth also brings the threat of greater loads of contaminants and new contaminant sources that, if not properly managed, could adversely affect water quality.

The Triangle Area Water Supply Monitoring Project (TAWSMP) is a collaborative partnership between local governments to monitor drinking water supplies in the region through joint efforts. The Project is enabled through a series of Interlocal Agreements among all of the local government Partners, agreements between the Partners and TJCOG, and Joint Funding Agreements between the Partners and USGS. The TAWSMP local government partners share the cost of the program with the USGS. A Steering Committee comprised of one representative from each Partner reviews and adjusts these agreements to accommodate community needs before each new Phase. Through this work, the TAWSMP has conducted water quality and stream gauge analyses for the last 30 years, and has compiled one of the most robust continuous water supply monitoring datasets in the nation.

Browse the site for more details about this important project in the Triangle region, and use the Contact page if you have questions or would like more information.