How to test your drinking water for PFAS and other bad things in NC

Drinking Water Quality

There are plenty of reasons to test your drinking water in NC. Here's how. (Shutterstock)

By Leah Sherrell

December 14, 2023

Almost 50 water systems in NC have been found to have high levels of toxic PFAS. Here’s how to test if your water has them, or other toxins, in it.

North Carolinians have a lot of reasons to test their water quality.

Environmental advocates have raised concerns about industrial waste, outdated lead pipes, toxic landfills, and massive, poorly regulated farming operations in recent years.

Chief among the concerns are PFAS (pronounced “peefas”), which you may have seen tossed around in conjunction with drinking water, non-stick cookware, and cleaning products. But what exactly are they? And why are they relevant?

Read More: ‘You can’t win for losing’: Inside Sampson County, NC’s environmental nightmare

Well, the scientific name for PFAS is Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and they pose serious health risks. They are man-made chemicals found in everyday items, and according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEH), exposure can result in “cancers, cholesterol diseases, pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia, and thyroid disease.”

They’re known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down, and continued exposure means they build up in the body. And they have contaminated several of North Carolina’s rivers per the NIEH, and at least 50 water systems—that we know of.

Naturally, North Carolinians want to know how to make sure their water is safe. There are ways to test for PFAS in your drinking water and reduce your exposure to them and other potentially harmful toxins, along with several North Carolina programs to help you with the cost.


Listen up, NC. Here’s how to test your drinking water. It’s important to you because 20 public water systems across 11 counties in NC have GenX- and other PFAS contaminants in their drinking water, according to a 2019 study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Other counties in NC have reported concerns about water quality around old landfills and agricultural operations, especially hog farms. Here’s how to make sure your water is safe! And if you’re worried specifically about PFAS, look for these certifications when choosing a lab to test your water: 🚰 Testing certifications from states that offers it, like Michigan or California 🚰The Department of Defense Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (DoD ELAP) accreditation for PFAS 🚰The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17025 accreditation for PFAS. Click the 🔗 in our bio for more info on NC’s PFAS treatment program. And for more NC news you can use, follow us @cardinalandpine! #water #toxinfree #chemicalfree #wellwater #tapwater #wateranalysis #contaminants #waterfilter #watertreatment #SafeWater #WaterTest #HealthyLiving #ruralnc #nc #explorenc

♬ original sound – Cardinal & Pine

Who should test?

In general, everyone. Which means if you can afford it, look into it. And if you can’t afford it, look into public programs that can help you afford it.

Reports suggest at least half of the nation’s water has been compromised by PFAS. But even if you aren’t near confirmed PFAS contamination, you should really listen up if you live near septic systems, landfills, dry cleaners, gas drilling, industrial operations, large-scale farming, or if you’re pregnant or nursing.

You should also look into the age and composition of the plumbing in your home. If your water smells bad, tastes bad, or stains your clothes, those are warning signs of issues.

If you’re hooked onto a public water system, that’s generally good news, because public water systems are required to maintain certain standards, but there is currently no state or federal rule requiring systems to notify customers if they find PFAS. Indeed, a recent report from NC Newsline found that some weren’t.

If you’re on well water, you’re in charge of making sure your water is safe. The EPA recommends well users test at least once a year for things like total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels.

So, in other words, there aren’t many good reasons to skip out on testing, regardless of your situation right now.

How should I test?

Usually, your county health department will help you test your water, or you can find a certified lab that will do it. You can find a lab certified by NC via the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by going here.

If you don’t have web access, you can also find a lab by calling the EPA water hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

The internet sells at-home water quality tests, but be wary, y’all. Some of them are simply unreliable or test for the wrong things. The EPA recommends finding a certified lab, and so do we.

How much is it going to cost me to test?

Certified lab testing typically costs between $300-$600, but some North Carolinians are eligible for free sampling or reimbursement.

Residents of the Cape Fear River Basin are eligible, depending on location, to have their water tested for PFAS at no cost because of their proximity to the Chemours facility.

The chemical company, along with their predecessor DuPont, released large amounts of PFAS into the air surrounding the plant and the Cape Fear River, and some residents are able to have their water sampled by a third party environmental consultant.

Residents from Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender counties using private well water may be eligible for free water sampling and can fill out this online form for more information.

If you live in Bladen, Cumberland, Robeson, and Sampson counties—within 10 miles south and 25 miles north of the facility—you can contact the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at 910-678-1101 to find out more about their no-cost eligibility.

For those connected to public water supply, first contact your local water utility to see if they have or are planning to test your water.

If they are not taking steps, the DEQ keeps a list of labs certified to test for PFAS both within and outside of North Carolina.

Residents of Pender, New Hanover, Columbus, and Guilford counties using private well water who have tested for PFAS may also be eligible for reimbursement through the PFAS Treatment Assistance Program.


WATCH: Come with us to Sampson County, NC, where people are getting sick. Locals in this rural NC county say their water and air is polluted by a PFAS-contaminated landfill, massive hog and poultry farms, and industrial operations. For more on the environmental crises, click the 🔗 for the full story. northcarolina pfas cleanwater cleanair environment pollution

♬ original sound – Cardinal & Pine

What about filtering my water?

Good idea.

That $300-$600 is a lot of money when you don’t know what the results will be or what you can do about them. So if you have to choose between testing and filters, you might just want to start filtering.

Brita filters are good for removing things like sediments, chlorine, and lead. But the filters on the market have varying levels of effectiveness for PFAS, research shows. Here’s a good primer from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that specializes in researching tools that are good for the environment and your health.

Early research indicates reverse osmosis filtration systems are one of the most effective methods of filtering water and removing PFAS, if you know or suspect your water is contaminated.

RO filtration systems are installed under the sink and start at about $200, but also require periodic filter changes.

But this is something to stay on top of. PFAS contamination is still poorly understood by state and federal regulators, relatively speaking, so staying in touch and on top of this issue is imperative.

What if I think my water is making me sick?

First off, see your doctor. Your health is not something you can wait on.

You can also contact the NC DEQ (call them toll-free at 1-877-623-6748) to see if you are living on or near any suspected contaminants.

Stay healthy, NC.


  • Leah Sherrell

    Leah Sherrell is a multimedia reporter for Cardinal & Pine. A graduate of UNC-Wilmington, she's a resident of Kernersville with a background in video production and communication. Leah uses many forms of media to explore the multifaceted lifestyles and cultures present in North Carolina.


Local News

Related Stories
Share This