The Duke researchers who discovered trace amounts of contaminants in water sources around the Triangle last year think they may be closer to understanding where they're coming from. The potentially toxic contaminants, known as perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, are known to be especially elusive and difficult to track.
But at a forum last month sponsored by the Sierra Club and N.C. Central, Lee Ferguson, an environmental analytical chemist at Duke University, said that his team might have some ideas. In some cases, the chemicals could be coming from sewage that is recycled and used for agriculture. The repurposed sewage can flow into tributaries of larger bodies of water. And since wastewater treatment plants aren't accustomed to looking for these little-known compounds, they're not especially good at removing them from drinking water. In other cases, the chemicals could be carried through rainwater or the air.