By Maydha Devarajan, Chatham News + Record
City commissioners began and ended Monday night’s meeting with closed sessions, discussing issues of attorney-client privilege and limiting candidates for city manager, but water quality remained a priority.
Reed Barton, associate environmental engineer at CDM Smith, provided an update to the board on the granular activated carbon (GAC) system at the Pittsboro Water Treatment Plant. Pittsboro’s raw water supply comes from the Haw River, in which PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and 1,4-dioxane contaminants have been found.
The GAC system, which went live on August 25, is the first phase in the fight against PFAS contamination in the city’s drinking water. The system initially faced delays in starting operations due to supply chain issues and a delay in the construction schedule. Barton described the system as using a magnet-like absorption process through activated carbon that traps PFAS chemicals and other contaminants that might be in the water.
On October 4, the city received the second set of water test results following the installation of the advanced filtration system; the results met and exceeded the 90% PFAS elimination goal for which the system was designed.
“So those are great results and those are the results I expect to see every day,” Barton said.
Barton said the city is seeking state revolving fund grants and loans to expand the PFAS system. Its GAC system has a capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day, based on funds the city was able to commit at the time, Barton said. The goal is to expand the system to 2 million gallons per day.
The city is also seeking funding for an ultraviolet system to remove 1,4-dioxane, which would add a second advanced treatment process to the plant. Barton said the city should receive information on grant funding in February. When the GAC begins to decrease its capacity to treat water, Barton also said the city will order replacement activated carbon and replacement may be needed after six months or less.
The council also recognized Chatham Marketplace for its service to the city in providing filtered water to residents while Pittsboro awaited completion of the advanced treatment project at the city’s sewage treatment plant. The free water program at Chatham Marketplace ended when the GAC system went live.
Between December 2021 and September 2022, Chatham Marketplace distributed 46,819 gallons of filtered water through 7,410 transactions, according to the resolution memo. Evan Diamond, Managing Director of Chatham Marketplace, was present at the meeting to accept recognition on behalf of the co-operative enterprise.
While commissioners heard updates of a positive nature regarding Pittsboro’s water issues, Pittsboro resident Jennifer Platt also spoke virtually during the public comment section of the meeting, expressing concerns. regarding the results of the NC State University GenX exposure study.
The study, which began in November 2017, focuses on examining the impacts of PFAS exposure on human health, by collecting samples from communities along the Cape Fear River basin. Of more than 1,000 study participants, 206 Pittsboro residents provided blood samples a year ago that were evaluated for PFAS levels.
Platt said most participants got their results last week; the scientists leading the study gave an online presentation outlining the blood PFAS results on October 18, which is available online at genxstudy.ncsu.edu/communicating-results/community-meetings/.
Of the three areas studied, residents of Pittsboro have the highest median levels of each compound in their blood.
“I, who worked so hard to reduce my exposures, drink clean water, filtered water and be very careful, my levels were also high,” Platt said.
Thousands of chemicals fall into the PFAS category; the chemicals can be found in products such as non-stick cookware, waterproof jackets, food packaging and fire-fighting foam. Many PFAS chemicals remain of concern because they do not break down in the environment and can bioaccumulate in wildlife, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet.
Although the effects on human health are still being determined, associated problems include liver and thyroid cancer and toxicity to the immune system, says the Center for Environmental and Health Effects of PFAS at NC State on its website.
Platt acknowledged that the city had made progress with the water treatment plant and the installation of the GAC system, but was concerned about the Sanford Water Department’s ability to keep up with treatment processes, in reference to the merger of the Sanford-Pittsboro water system.
“It would be the same song, different verse,” Platt said. “And I just wanted to say that we really need to keep pushing the upline unloaders.”
Council also voted 4-1 to extend the city’s contract with GFL Environmental Inc. for two years for solid waste collection, transportation and disposal, unchanged with no service additions, per a motion by Commissioner John Bonitz.
Commissioner Kyle Shipp, the dissenting vote, expressed concerns about the continued “kick in the road”, noting that the board discussed the contract in four meetings before Monday night’s session.
“I think this is a good opportunity to improve the services we provide to citizens,” Shipp said.
The original amendment that commissioners planned to vote on at the meeting would have changed the size of the recycling container from 65 gallons to 95 gallons, serviced every two weeks. The recycling rate would have gone from $2.85 per container to $3.75 per container. The amendment also included an item on yard waste collection that would add bi-weekly service with a 95-gallon container for $2.48 per container, occurring the week of service with no recycling.
Bonitz said he understands Commissioner Jay Farrell’s concerns about the original amendment – Farrell had made it clear he was not in favor of increasing the gallon size and adding waste collection garden at the start of the council discussion – and said he doesn’t feel like the city is in a position to raise rates at this time.
“I think we’re all tired of talking about it, and I think we have so much going on right now, I don’t feel like even to the extent that we’ve talked about it, we’re talking about it. gave the proper deference and attention,” Bonitz said. “And I think two years from now we’ll be in a much better position to assess it. we’ll have more utilities on our plate and we’ll be more comfortable digging into things like this and looking to maximize recycling, maximize waste reduction, and perhaps minimize the cost to taxpayers.
- After meeting behind closed doors for nearly two hours, the board narrowed down the nominees for a permanent chief executive to 15 people. The manager is expected to be publicly announced by January.
- Public Information and Emergency Manager Colby Sawyer was recognized by the council for his service to the city and for receiving the designation of Certified Emergency Manager earlier this year. Sawyer earned designation from the International Association of Emergency Managers, which the resolution note says is the group’s highest honor of professional achievement and that Sawyer demonstrated “a high level of skill and ethical fitness for emergency management”.
- Three members of Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, all with the same first name and jokingly referred to as the “Brayden Bunch” — Brayden Cabe, Brayden Ritchea, Brayden Spacek — conducted the Pledge of Allegiance on Monday. Troop 93 celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier in October.
- Commissioner James Vose has been approved by the Board to serve as the town’s representative on the Chatham Chamber of Commerce.
- As part of the consent agenda, council approved several items, including the city’s June and July financial reports and a budget amendment for a grant addressing the state of the sewer collection system. The Find It-Fix It Sewer Rehabilitation Project received $4,450,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from the Water Infrastructure Division of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality in may. The program is fully funded by reimbursement, so the initial payment must be provided by the city.
- Commissioners also approved five members of the City Adjustment Board and one alternate member; council members who live in areas of extraterritorial jurisdiction will need to be approved by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners at their next meeting.
The board will meet next at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14 at the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center.
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