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Duke to study health impact of PFAS in Pittsboro, North Carolina residents

Some Pittsboro, North Carolina residents have been suspicious of their water since testing in 2017 showed that there were elevated levels of PFAs in Cape Fear River, their main water source. The toxins come from the Chemours Fayetteville Works chemical plant, located upriver of Pittsboro.
According to Pittsboro’s mayor, very few residents are aware that their water may be contaminated with PFAS. While the levels found weren’t technically above the legal limits, research suggests that there isn’t a safe level of PFAS contamination in water because the chemical remains in people’s systems for extended periods of time.
Duke University will be conducting a study on the impacts of PFAS in the bloodstream on human health, and will take blood samples of atleast 30 Pittsboro residents in the coming year. <Read more>


Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

Corpus Christi, Texas, residents warned to avoid tap water.
Residents of Corpus Christi, Texas were told to not to drink or bathe in the tap water because of a chemical contamination. About 300,000 people in Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico coast were impacted by this crisis. Residents were told that nothing including boiling, filtering, adding chlorine or other disinfectants, or letting the water stand will not make the water safe.
The contaminants have not yet been named, but are petroleum-based from an asphalt plant. The contamination was the result of a faulty valve in the city’s industrial area, which caused a back-flow leaking toxic contaminates into the drinking water supply.
In cities with industrial areas it is important to ask if your city has safeguards in place to prevent this type of accident from happening to your public water supply. Although the problem was unidentified and is being corrected there were 300,000 people who are potential victims of toxic exposures that can cause all types of medical problems including cancers, reproductive, nervous system and more.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Backyard Talk

The Water in Flint is Not Safe to Drink

I suspect that many of you watched in amazement as President Barack Obama drank a sip of tap water while visiting Flint, MI earlier this month and told everyone that it’s OK. Sorry, Mr. President, but all’s not well in Flint. This publicity stunt is a slap in the face to so many people. Not only have thousands of people including young children and infants already been exposed to toxic levels of lead and other contaminants that will affect their health for years, but thousands of people in Flint are still drinking and using contaminated water.
Dr. Marc Edwards, a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech who has done an enormous amount of water testing in Flint released the latest testing results in April several weeks before Obama’s visit. These results showed lower levels of lead in the water, but lead levels were still above the action level set by Obama’s EPA. In a press release, Edwards stated that “People have to continue using bottled water and filters until further notice.” Furthermore, no one is testing the water for volatile organic compounds like trihalomethanes (THM), contaminants that result from adding chlorine to kill bacteria. Early in the Flint crisis, THMs and bacteria levels were found to be high, but once elevated lead was found in the water, testing for THMs and bacteria stopped.
Be clear, Obama’s publicity stunt was not about public health. It was not about good science or testing results that show that the water is safe to drink. Instead, it was about reassuring the public that all is well in Flint and that the government has everything under control. It was about avoiding taking responsibility and not holding those at the highest levels of government accountable for the mistakes that led to the disaster in Flint. It was about controlling the media and trying to convince the media to move on to the next hot button issue. If this succeeds, then we can expect to see more Flints in the future, because we will not have learned anything from this public health disaster.

Backyard Talk

EPA Switches Stance on Testing Lead in Drinking Water

The fiasco in Flint, MI has forced an important change in EPA’s recommended protocols for testing lead in drinking water. In a memo to state health and water administrators issued February 29, 2016, the US EPA reversed its prior recommendations on how to sample drinking water targeted for lead testing. The new protocols are as follows:

  • Do not remove or clean faucet aerators prior to collecting samples
  • Do not pre-flush prior to sampling
  • Use wide mouth sample bottles to allow water flow to enter at a rate similar to what consumers might use when pouring a glass of water to drink

In the past, EPA‘s advice was to pre-clean the aerator, flush pipes prior to sampling, and open the tap slowly and sample at low flow. Using these guidelines results in less particulate lead getting into the sample and thus finding lower lead concentrations in the water. Removing or cleaning an aerator prior to testing masks the added contribution of lead at the tap that results from the lead in the aerator. Flushing the pipe prior to sampling eliminates the lead that has built up overnight or since the last time the faucet was used. Pouring the water slowly, whether by using a narrow container or by just opening the tap slowly, also reduces particulate lead that gets into the water by not disturbing lead present in the pipe as much as a normal flush would. These inaccurate procedures were called to task by Dr. Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech University who found high levels of lead in the drinking water in Flint, MI.
Despite the fact that this is not what people typically do when they pour a glass of water from the sink to drink, these are the sampling procedures that EPA has been advocating for years and what water companies have been using for years to measure lead in drinking water. By using these procedures, water companies everywhere, not just in Flint, are not accurately measuring the lead concentration in drinking water, and they are potentially missing a significant portion of the lead actually in the drinking water systems. Doing this provides a false sense of security that seriously endangers public health.
Although EPA has issued these new guidelines, there’s no guarantee that water companies around the country have switched to the new sampling procedures. If you’re concerned about the lead levels in your water, find out what sampling procedures are being used because it makes a huge difference. While we can thank the public attention given to the disaster in Flint for this critically important change, now we need to make sure that testing agencies across the country follow this new protocol. Contact CHEJ at to obtain a copy of this important memo.