By Lars Dolder, Chatham News + Record Staff
The Pittsboro Water Quality Task Force — a 17-person team of experts assembled by the town’s board of commissioners last November to assess “unregulated contaminants in the Haw River and the appropriate response thereto” — has finalized its report and submitted a recommended action plan to the town.
The town’s board of commissioners isn’t expected to evaluate the report until its Nov. 23 meeting.
Why it matters
PFAS — Perfluoroalkyl substances, chemicals known as potential carcinogens — were discovered in Chatham County’s water and identified as a serious public health threat to its residents in 2018. Since then, the News + Record has reported frequently on developing research into the contaminant’s prevalence in Chatham County towns, most notably Pittsboro. With the PWQTF’s formation, the town officially sponsored efforts to address the PFAS problem. The team’s findings could represent a bridge from research and analysis to commensurate action.
Here is a breakdown of the report’s most important takeaways:
Pittsboro’s situation is grim, but not irreversible.
- “The Town of Pittsboro will face many challenges related to water resources over the coming years,” the report said, “all of which will be complicated and will require many points of view and expertise.”
The town’s PFAS contamination is among the worst in the state. The most recent available research found PFAS levels of 844.8 parts per trillion (ppt) in the Haw River at Pittsboro’s water intake point. For some perspective, Cary — which draws its water from Jordan Lake — measured 110.6 ppt. And parts of northern and eastern Chatham County, which source water from Durham’s Lake Michie and the Jordan Lake, had just 65.4 ppt.
The most effective way to address contamination in the water supply would be to stop it at the source, the report concluded. But that may be unrealistic.
“There are multiple known sources of contamination stemming from within the municipalities of Reidsville, Burlington and Greensboro,” the report said.
It is improbable those municipalities can significantly adjust their industries to minimize PFAS runoff. A more likely long-term solution to the town’s water contamination is for Pittsboro to continue ongoing development of a regional water treatment plant designed to service a four-partner coalition called the Western Intake Partners.
The four partners are Pittsboro, Durham, Chatham County and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. Together they are collaborating on plans to construct a water treatment plant at Jordan Lake’s western shore.
But there is a problem: the plant, if it is built, will not be operational until 2031.
Therefore, the report said, “while (the water treatment plant) should be pursued, it will not adequately and urgently address the immediate emerging contamination problem.”
Fortunately, viable short-term options exist to…