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PWC and customers face $92 million price to filter ‘forever chemicals’ from water

Carbon filtration systems planned for PWC’s two water treatment plants


The Fayetteville Public Works Commission — and its customers in and around Fayetteville — face an estimated $92 million cost to design and build filtering equipment to extract “forever chemicals” out of its drinking water supplies, the PWC’s board learned during a presentation Wednesday. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made compounds that have been used in manufacturing processes and in common consumer products (including clothing, carpeting, cooking utensils, pesticides, food wrappers, shampoo, toothpaste and dental floss) for decades. Studies have found they are health hazards.

The filtration equipment proposed for PWC includes:

  • A $58.9 million project on at the PWC’s P.O. Hoffer Water Treatment Facility on the Cape Fear River.
  • A $33.1 million project at the Glenville Lake Water Treatment Facility. Glenville Lake is in Mazarick Park, between Bragg Boulevard and Murchison Road.

Once installed, the filter systems will cost about $12 million annually to maintain and operate, since the filtering medium will need to be replaced periodically as it fills with contaminants, according to discussion at the presentation.

The $92 million estimate is nearly $20 million more than a $73 million figure discussed in the spring of 2023.

At least some of the cost is expected to be added to the rates paid by the PWC’s water customers, although the utility is seeking state and federal money to help pay for it. Under current rates, a residential customer in Fayetteville who uses 4,000 gallons of water in a month pays $30.81, the PWC says on its website.

“We can’t afford to do this by ourselves,” said Timothy Bryant, the CEO and general manager of the PWC. “We’ve got to increase our customer base. We’ve got to get some help from the federal government to make this happen. Otherwise, it’s going to be a real, real challenge for our customers.”

New EPA regulations forcing utilities to install equipment

The equipment would be installed to meet new Environmental Protection Agency rules, expected to take effect by the end of March, requiring water utility companies filter PFAS chemicals. Then the PWC should have five years to comply, said engineer Cory Hopkins of the Hazen and Sawyer water engineering consulting firm, who presented to the board Wednesday.

In recent years, studies have linked PFAS chemicals to health problems involving the liver, the immune system, the cardiovascular system, fetal development and cancer.

PFAS chemicals have been nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they are extremely stable, and therefore slow to break down.

The EPA regulations would cap PFAS contamination in drinking water to no more than 4 parts per trillion, Hazen engineer David Briley told the PWC board.

Throughout the world, PFAS chemicals have been found in people, animals and the environment, Hazen said. “Once I heard that we can detect PFAS in the blood of polar bears, I realized we kind of created a mess for ourselves,” he said.

PFAS gets into the environment via manufacturing processes and from everyday household activities, said Mick Noland, the PWC’s chief operations for water resources.

“Our domestic wastewater, without any industrial contribution, has PFAS in it, because of the clothes we wash, the pans we wash,” he said.

South of Fayetteville, the Chemours Co. chemical factory has been the focus of government officials because it used to discharge GenX, a PFAS chemical, into the Cape Fear River and the atmosphere. The PWC’s water intake is upstream of Chemours, but it has been finding PFAS in water it takes in from the river and from Glenville Lake.  

During Wednesday’s meeting, Briley and Hopkins discussed three filtration methods that the PWC could use to filter PFAS chemicals: ion exchange, reverse osmosis with nanofiltration, and granular activated carbon.

The granular activated carbon system would be the least costly, and that is what the PWC is looking at installing.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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pwc, public works commission, pfas, genx, forever chemicals