And those myriad other sources will be difficult to pinpoint:
Elevated levels of industrial pollutants in North Carolina rivers are almost certainly not limited to areas near Wilmington and Fayetteville, where GenX contamination has raised concerns in recent years, according to environmental scientists. They point to evidence from initial findings in other communities as they prepare a statewide testing plan.
As researchers and policymakers took a deeper look at the causes of pollutants and what it would take to get ahead of similar incidents of contamination, there was a growing realization that what happened in Wilmington was not an isolated case.
I first moved to Alamance County in 1973, and the Haw River was notorious back then for being too nasty to even contemplate swimming or kayaking in. Textile mills and other industrial sites were still discharging (point-source) directly into the river, as the Clean Water Act was still in its infancy and enforcement was gearing up. The transformation of that river over the following ten years was nothing short of amazing, but that progress was not as effective as everybody thought at the time:
Rather than what happened in Wilmington, a more typical scenario is what’s playing out in the town of Pittsboro, where hundreds of potential upstream sources exist for elevated levels of PFAS, the solvent 1,4-Dioxane and excessive bromide, all of which Knappe’s team discovered at the town’s water treatment plant on the Haw River in sampling in 2014 and 2015.
Knappe has been working with town officials to find filtration methods to reduce the levels. Compared to what happened over GenX in Wilmington and Fayetteville, the outcry has been muted, and the outcome remains uncertain. “I think it’s been frustrating, honestly, for the utility folks or elected officials that care about this that progress has been extremely slow or perhaps there’s no progress at all,” he said.
Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton agreed that it’s been frustrating, given how quickly state and local officials moved over GenX. One of the problems, she said, is that there’s no straightforward solution. “I think the problem in the Haw that’s been different from the GenX story is that there is not one place that it’s coming from,” she said.
“There’s not one permit, not one discharge they can target like GenX.”
I know many reading this get their drinking water from Jordan Lake, and you probably feel like you dodged a bullet with GenX, since it's downstream. Don't take off that bullet-proof vest just yet.