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By Sascha Medina

WILMINGTON, N.C. — On Friday morning, June 17, the North Carolina Collaboratory and N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced a new partnership at the 3rd National PFAS Meeting in Wilmington. Focusing on PFAS, a complex group of man-made chemicals, the institutions are partnering to create fellowship positions for university faculty members to work in the DEQ.

Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality joined Steve Wall, Outreach Director of the North Carolina Collaboratory, at the press conference announcing the fellowship and first year of fellows.

The first year of Collaboratory Research Fellows are:

  • Jamie DeWitt from East Carolina University, fellow for Fall 2022
  • Lee Ferguson from Duke University, fellow for Fall 2022
  • Detlef Knappe from North Carolina State University, fellow for Spring 2023
  • Ralph Mead from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, fellow for Summer 2023
First year of Collaboratory Research Fellows
From left to right: Dr. Detlef Knappe, Dr. Ralph Mead, Dr. Jamie DeWitt, Dr. Lee Ferguson

Each of these researchers are experts in their fields and since its establishment have been leaders of the PFAS Testing Network, a Collaboratory-led group of university experts who specialize in studying PFAS levels in drinking water and air samples as well as the environmental and public health impacts of PFAS.

“I’m so excited about working with the talented scientists at the DEQ and hope that my experience as an academic scientist studying PFAS will provide additional support as the agency continues to address PFAS contamination in our state,” Dr. Jamie DeWitt said.

These fellows will work side-by-side with DEQ staff in the office, laboratory, or field. During their placement, the fellows will collaborate with DEQ staff on sampling, data analysis and lab standards, while getting an up-close view of the regulatory process.

With continued support by N.C. legislators, the fellowship grants, which will buy out these fellows’ teaching time and fund travel-related expenses, are provided by the N.C. General Assembly. Showing their support, several N.C. legislators attended the press conference including Senator Michael Lee, Representative Deb Butler and Representative Ted Davis.

“We are confident that this new program will not only strengthen the existing partnerships that these researchers have already established with DEQ, but will also allow us to find new and sustainable ways for them to work together to solve complicated and challenging problems facing the state,” Dr. Jeffrey Warren, Executive Director of the North Carolina Collaboratory, said.

Every research project the Collaboratory funds generates data and information the researchers share with a number of organizations, including the DEQ, who use this information to develop new strategies and policies. As such, the Collaboratory is helping transform academic research into practical information for the benefit of North Carolinians.

PFAS contamination is a statewide issue North Carolinians have been grappling with for several years. In response, the state and DEQ have been working to address PFAS. On June 7, the Department released the DEQ Action Strategy for PFAS, and a key focus of the strategy is the development of the science needed to address PFAS.

“This fellowship is an opportunity for DEQ and the leading scientific experts on PFAS to work together to improve our understanding of these forever chemicals and generate the scientific data we need to protect our communities and protect our drinking water,” Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said.

Partnership Representatives
From left to right: Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser, Dr. Ralph Mead, Dr. Lee Ferguson, Dr. Jamie DeWitt, Dr. Detlef Knappe, Representative Deb Butler, Steve Wall, Senator Michael Lee, Representative Ted Davis

North Carolina Collaboratory is a Leader in PFAS Research

The Collaboratory has been active in PFAS research for several years. In 2018, with funding from the N.C. General Assembly, the Collaboratory developed the PFAS Testing Network. This effort was mandated by the N.C. General Assembly’s Water Safety Act provision in the 2018 budget that contained just over $5 million to get this effort off the ground.

In addition, the Collaboratory provided approximately $2 million in additional funding from other discretionary funding appropriated by the legislature to support these investigations. PFAS is a complex issue, and the General Assembly’s support has allowed the Collaboratory to address the challenge from several angles.

In the 2021 state budget, the Collaboratory received additional funds for PFAS work — $14 million. The ongoing and future research will include the development of a firefighting foam registry, implementation of new PFAS filtration technology in three locations across the state, as well as additional research projects through the ongoing PFAS Testing Network.

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