July 30, 2018

The North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2016 to facilitate dissemination of the policy and research expertise of the University of North Carolina for practical use by state and local governments, has received a new $5,013,000 million appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly as part of the 2018-2019 state budget.

The funding will support baseline water quality testing for a set of chemicals classified as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including GenX, a potentially toxic industrial compound that has been detected in the Cape Fear River.

Dr. Jason Surratt

Dr. Jason Surratt

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health will manage the study, and Jason Surratt, PhD, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School, will serve as lead investigator. Surratt, who has an extensive background in environmental chemistry, is experienced in collaborating across disciplines and conducting multi-university field campaigns.

“We are grateful to the legislature for this important opportunity to collaborate with universities and public agencies across North Carolina to obtain critical evidence needed to protect the health of North Carolinians,” said Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, Gillings School dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor. “With the outstanding university teams and comprehensive strategy that will be undertaken, North Carolina will lead the country in this type of research.”

The Collaboratory will award grants to more than 20 researchers at multiple North Carolina universities to conduct the testing and begin work on related research projects aimed at:

  • Sampling public water sources statewide to establish a baseline and monitoring protocol moving forward;
  • Examining air emissions to better understand how air particles may impact water on and under the ground;
  • Developing models to predict which private water wells are at greatest risk of PFAS contamination; and
  • Assessing the impact of PFAS on public health and testing the performance of technologies in removing them.

An advisory committee for the study includes faculty members from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington, Duke University, East Carolina University and North Carolina State University. Detlef Knappe, PhD, professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at N.C. State University, and P. Lee Ferguson, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, are co-chairs of the committee.

Both Knappe and Ferguson are internationally recognized experts in emerging contaminants being found in water. While studying the Cape Fear River, Knappe and his research team first discovered high levels of concentrations of industrial chemicals, including GenX. In November 2016, their results were published in the academic journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Subsequent media reports on the study brought the issue to the attention of state officials.

As mandated by the legislature, the study will require water sampling in all regions of the state, thereby establishing a baseline for researchers to continue monitoring long-term changes in North Carolina’s water quality. The research will be conducted on a range issues, including drinking water wells, chemical compound removal and air quality impacts.

The study’s broad scope places it at the forefront of efforts to determine whether emerging contaminants are problematic and, if so, determining the extent of their impact and identifying practical solutions that protect the public from adverse health impacts of these compounds. Results of the study will be shared with the public on a regular basis, beginning in October.

The Collaboratory is planning a day-long symposium on emerging contaminants Sept. 28 at the Washington Duke Executive Conference Center in Durham, N.C. The event is co-sponsored by the Duke University Program in Environmental Health and Toxicology, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility.

More information about the Collaboratory can be found online.


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