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City attorney: No standard exists on PFAS in terms of wastewater

Jul 30, 2023Jul 30, 2023

Lumberton pretreatment program accepting leachate with ‘some PFAS in that’

Michael Futch The Robesonian

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of thousands of chemicals used in hundreds of types of products.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Lumberton pretreatment program accepting leachate with ‘some PFAS in that’

LUMBERTON – As a significant industrial user, the Sampson County Landfill falls into the city of Lumberton’s wastewater pretreatment program.

Sampson County Landfill holds a permit for this usage – SIU 023, according to the N.C. Department of Water Quality. The Lumberton wastewater treatment plant accepts leachate from the Sampson County Landfill as part of the city’s pretreatment program.

The Robesonian learned last week that leachate from the Sampson County disposal is being trucked to Robeson County and dumped into the water treatment system. This landfill has very high levels of PFAS from the industrial sludge from Chemours.

“We do accept leachate from the Sampson County Landfill,” City Attorney Holt Moore said Monday. “And then there is some PFAS in that. The deputy director said there’s some level of that in almost all wastewater. That it may be on average a little higher than other types of wastewater,” he said.

“But at present there is no standard on PFAS in terms of wastewater.”

Leachate is the fluid percolating through the landfill, or solid waste dumpsite and is generated from liquids present in the water and outside pool, including rainwater, filtering through the waste.

PFAS are a class of about 15,000 compounds used to make products across dozens of industries resistant to water, stains and heat. Often, they are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and have been linked to cancer, kidney disease, liver conditions, immune disorders, birth defects and other health problems.

Chemours, which has a facility at the Fayetteville Works Plant, has settled in the millions for polluting drinking water with “forever chemicals.” The chemical company continues efforts to mitigate contamination from GenX and other potentially harmful chemicals found in more than 5,200 wells.

Moore said there are no noncompliance-type issues involved in Lumberton accepting the leachate.

“It – the leachate – has to be treated at a wastewater facility. That needs to be kept in mind,” Moore said. “It is a considerable revenue generator for the city. Such as that displaces the need to spend tax dollars on infrastructure and other things. Since we have the capacity to treat it – completely legally – we decided to accept it.”

Moore reiterated later, “It’s an excellent source of revenue. We only have so many ways of generating revenue. It’s completely in compliance with all governmental standards. It was just another form of wastewater.”

He was uncertain how long this had been going on.

“Not sure if we had to weigh in on that or not,” the city attorney said of city leaders discussing the matter in a public setting. “Our water and wastewater facility were essentially overbuilt to accommodate the textile industry. That declined significantly. Fortunately, we have a lot of capacity for treatment.

“I don’t recall it specially being taken to council or not,” he said. “PFAS seems to have become more of an issue more widely discussed in the last year or two. This decision predates a lot of that.”

John Cantey Jr. has been on the Lumberton City Council for 18 years, making him the longest-running councilman at this time.

“I think we addressed this issue,” he said Wednesday. “Probably three months ago we were briefed on the firefighting foam. There’s concern about that, as well. We questioned it. I made sure I spoke up about it, as well. I asked should we be concerned about that (leachate) as well for our residents.

“I was told the legal limits for the county is not on the level of toxicity and based on our treatment procedures weren’t enough to cause any alarm or any harm to our residents,” Cantey said.

Over a period of years, he added, he was told “again, for information knowledge, there was not enough to cause any alarm.”

According to Cantey, the discussion came either during a closed session or following a city council meeting. It was not discussed, as he put it, “not openly.”

“I live here, as well, and I’m responsible for the residents in our communities, and I really don’t like hearing any type of toxicity or contamination,” he said. “If someone is experienced in the field, if they tell me the levels are low and we don’t have anything to worry about now — and this was for informational purposes — OK, I believe you.”

The city of Lumberton’s website states that there are about 900 significant industrial users (SIUs) who discharge industrial wastewater to over 140 wastewater treatment facilities in North Carolina.

Federal and State pretreatment regulations 15A NCAC 2H .0905 and .0916 and 40 CFR 403.8 (f)(1)(iii) require local delegated pretreatment programs to effectively control and document the discharge of wastewater from significant and categorical industrial users to the wastewater treatment facilities.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality states that it requires “additional PFAS sampling of all regular groundwater, surface water and leachate samples for all solid waste sanitary landfills, including Sampson County, and has initiated sampling around both the Sampson County Landfill and the Lumberton Wastewater Treatment Plant facilities.”

Based on the city of Lumberton’s website, “the pretreatment program administers local, state and federal regulations affecting area businesses and the quality of the wastewater discharged into wastewater treatment system.”

These regulations, the website states, were implemented:

– To prevent the introduction of pollutants into the municipal wastewater system which will interfere with the operation of the system or contaminate the resulting sludge;

– To prevent the introduction of pollutants into the municipal wastewater system which will pass through the wastewater system, inadequately treated, into any waters of the State or otherwise be incompatible with the system;

– To promote reuse and recycling of wastewater and sludge from the municipal system;

– To protect both municipal personnel who may be affected by sewage, sludge and effluent in the course of their employment as well as protecting the general public;

– To provide for equitable distribution of the cost of construction, operation, maintenance and improvement of the municipal wastewater system;

– To ensure that the municipality complies with its NPDES permit conditions, sludge use and disposal requirements and any other federal or state laws to which the municipal wastewater system is subject.

Area businesses are required to install, operate and adequately maintain pretreatment equipment and/or systems to remove those pollutants that could otherwise damage or obstruct the wastewater collection system; or interfere with or pass through the wastewater treatment process.

Contact Michael Futch via email at [email protected].