Testing reveals elevated levels of chemicals at Greensboro water treatment plant

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Elevated levels of chemicals were found in the water at a Greensboro water treatment plant, Assistant Director of Water Resources Mike Borchers said at a Wednesday news conference.

City officials say the water is safe to use though, because the chemicals only form a health risk after years of exposure and this was a singular occurrence.

The area impacted the most is surrounding the Mitchell Water Treatment Plant where the contaminants were detected.

The chemicals in question are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and related chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The chemicals exceeded the EPA health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion by 10 parts.

The chemicals are manmade chemicals that were used for 50 years to make products that resist heat, oil, stains and more.

Every month the City of Greensboro tests the water for PFOA and PFOS. On Monday, the results showed the levels were higher than the EPA health advisory level. No water regulatory limit was violated, but the city took precautions to resolve the rise.

“When we received those results we immediately met and we started implementing our operational protocol,” Assistant Director of Water Resources Michael Borchers said.

Borchers said the city is taking every precaution to get the numbers below the advisory level.

“Even though it’s a health advisory limit, as I’ve mentioned earlier, we treat it like it is a water quality limit. So we’re going to do everything we can to assure the public that we are addressing it and getting it below the health advisory level,” he said.

He said the Mitchell Water Treatment Plant stopped pumping water and they have been relying on other water sources in the meantime. They are treating the water supply and are now waiting on new test results showing it’s all clear.

“The majority of our system was not adversely impacted which is the good news,” he said.

Borchers said the contaminated supply is coming from Lake Brandt. Since 2016, the city has been looking for the source of the PFOA and PFOS.

“We believe we’ve identified the area the contaminants are coming from. And it’s predominantly from industrial areas surrounding and including the airport,” he said.

He said they think chemicals used for putting out fires and ones used for testing by the airport and tank farm were not always disposed of properly over the years and ultimately they wound up getting in the water.

This is the first time they’ve found the levels are above the health advisory limit since they started measuring for it in 2014.

While this is not violating any water regulatory limit, Borchers said the city is taking every precaution.

“So I want to assure the public, the water is safe. Continue to use it as you would in any other manner,” he said.

PFOA and PFOS can pose a health risk for people who have a weakened immune system or women who are breastfeeding, but only after an extended time of exposure which could mean decades.

The city tests for PFOA and PFOS levels every month.

They hope to have the results from the new tests on the water by the end of the week.