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: