Duke researcher finds evidence of cancerous chemicals in river that provides drinking water to 1 million in NC

Durham County News

PITTSBORO, N.C. (WNCN) – A Duke researcher said she found evidence of cancerous chemicals in a river that provides water to more than a million people across North Carolina.

Water-quality issues are nothing new to Pittsboro residents, Mayor Jim Nass said.

“We know these compounds are in there and the scientific evidence tells us they can be harmful,” Nass said.

The compounds are known as PFAS. According to Duke University researcher Heather Stapleton, they’ve been linked to some forms of cancer.

“The contaminants flowing from the Haw River end up in Lake Jordan, and some of them end up in the drinking water of Cary and Apex,” Stapleton said.

Stapleton said the samples taken from around Pittsboro measured PFAS levels between 2-5 times higher than the national average.

“I actually installed a reverse osmosis system in my house because I was concerned about them,” Stapleton said.

Similar results were found downstream where the Haw River empties into the Cape Fear River, which has battled issues with a compound known as Gen-X.

“Any community pulling drinking water between Pittsboro and Wilmington will have similar exposure,” Stapleton said. “If you think of the people, that includes it’s up to 1 million people or 10 percent of our population.”

In an effort to fight these chemicals locally, Pittsboro has already upgraded its water treatment plant.

“We’ve put in an activated carbon system into our plant, and that was successful in removing some but not all of the compounds,” Nass said.

As they explore another overhaul to the town water supply, there may be an easy way to stay safe in your home.

“Any filter will help, even if it’s a pitcher filter that costs $20-30,” Stapleton said. “It provides some protection from these chemicals.”

Stapleton said more research is needed before they can accurately determine the source of the contamination upriver.

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