Triennial Review: Provide Input to Improve Water Quality Standards
The Clean Water Act requires states to review their water quality standards and classifications every three years and make any necessary modifications to ensure protection of our waters. During this process, called the Triennial Review, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) reviews current EPA guidelines, scientific data, and public comments and will make recommendations for changes to standards to the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC). The Triennial Review is currently underway, and now is our opportunity to let our state agencies and decision makers know that North Carolinians deserve stronger water quality protections
This year, the EMC proposed a few changes to water quality standards, however Haw River Assembly believes additional updates are needed to adequately protect our waters and ensure they are fishable, swimmable, and drinkable for all North Carolinians. This is your opportunity to make the case to the EMC that additional updates are important to the public.
Haw River Assembly’s Triennial Review Priorities
Haw River Assembly has identified PFAS, 1,4-Dioxane, and bacteria as priority issues impacting water quality and communities across the state and will be highlighting these issues during the Triennial Review with the following recommendations.
PFAS (Poly-fluorylalkal substances): Set a surface water standard that reflects the guidance of the best available science, which is a standard of no more than 20 ppt for the sum of all PFAS.
The proposed package of standards fails to address ‘forever chemicals’ (PFAS) - a family of toxics that circulate for decades in the environment - even as health impacts have been tied to increasingly small exposures. PFAS contamination is widespread across North Carolina and control technology exists to keep it out of our water. The EMC should make sure that it is implemented.
Too many North Carolina communities are forced to take on the burden of removing PFAS from their drinking water; the EMC should ensure this burden rests on the polluters, not the downstream utilities.
North Carolina can not afford to wait to regulate PFAS compounds. Communities have been drinking contaminated water for decades and are continuing to be exposed every day. As other states begin to set protective standards, including sum totals for the class of PFAS, we may see these polluting industries begin to take advantage of weaker regulations in North Carolina. The science is clear: PFAS must be regulated as a class in order to protect impacted communities.
1,4-Dioxane: Set standard of 0.35ug/L in all surface waters based on existing toxic substances narrative standard of 1 in 1,000,000 cancer risk
The current proposal before the EMC is set to codify existing guidance from the EPA's Integrated Risk Information System. This guidance is set at 0.35ug/L in water supply waters and 80 ug/L in all other surface waters. Many water supply waters across the state are part of interconnected river systems. This proposed standard will allow dischargers upstream of drinking water supplies to release levels of 1,4-dioxane over 200 times higher than the proposed standard only miles downstream. This leaves the burden of responsibility and water treatment on the downstream drinking water users, rather than the polluting industries upstream.
The 0.35 ug/L water quality standard is already North Carolina law. We support clarification of that in this rulemaking, but DEQ must pair that with action that is designed to meet the standard. They’ve failed to do so for years. DEQ has known about 1,4 dioxane pollution for years and continues to take no meaningful action to address the threat to communities in North Carolina.
1,4 Dioxane is a probable human carcinogen and has been linked to tumors, reproductive issues, issues with developing fetuses in animal studies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that “1,4-dioxane is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals.”
Bacteria: Establish a statewide E.coli standard as the pathogenic indicator in all surface waters
Based on water quality sampling conducted by your Riverkeepers, bacteria in our waterways is a widespread problem across the state. Fecal bacteria ends up in our waterways from a variety of sources - including leaking septic systems, improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, and industrial animal agriculture operations’ waste. When people come into contact with water containing high levels of e.coli or fecal contamination, it is a public health issue – and can cause gastrointestinal illness, eye infections, and skin irritations.
Currently, fecal coliform is used by the state of North Carolina to detect bacteria levels, however the presence of E. coli in water is the best available indicator of recent fecal waste contamination and is the recommended standard for recreational waters by EPA.
The EMC has proposed that 19 counties in the western part of North Carolina establish the E.coli standard, however, we believe this should be extended statewide.
How to ask for stronger water protections:
Email or mail comments by August 3, 2021 to:
NC DEQ-DWR Planning Section
1611 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1611
Or deliver spoken comments at a virtual public hearing on July 20, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. Register to speak before noon on July 20 here: