Tuesday night the Greensboro City Council voted unanimously to buy about 40 apartments for $2.8 million. But the purchase has nothing to do with affordable housing, the minimum housing code or any housing issue, the apartments were bought to ensure that Greensboro’s water continues to be safe and clean.

When it was discovered that the Mitchell Water Treatment plant had spikes of PFOS in its treated water.  (PFOS is  an industrial chemical that has been used in a wide variety of applications from pizza boxes to fire fighting foam.)  The first response of the city was to shut down the Mitchell plant until the issue could be resolved.  Then a temporary system using powdered activated carbon was put in place to remove the PFOS.  And the city in conjunction with the state and Guilford County sought the source of these unregulated pollutants which at the Mitchell Plant periodically spike above the federal health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.

Now the city has embarked on a more permanent solution which requires the expansion of the Mitchell Plant. The problem was that the Mitchell Plant at the intersection of Battleground and Benjamin Parkway, is in a highly developed part of the city with no vacant land adjacent.  So the city decided the best option was to buy the two story brick apartment complex next door.  The apartments have addresses on Whilden Place, Seminole Drive and Battleground Avenue and will eventually be demolished to make room for the expansion of Mitchell.

Fortunately for the tenants this is something of a long range project and since the facility that the city will build to house the granular activated carbon system which will be used to remove the PFOS from the water has not been designed,  there is no rush to remove the tenants before their leases expire.

Although a study of wells near the Piedmont Triad International Airport in the area where the PFOS originate is not complete Mike Borchers, the assistant director of Water Resources, said they believe that one of the main sources of the pollutant is the fire fighting foam used at the airport which reportedly still contains PFOS. Borchers said it was kind of Catch-22 that federal regulations required the fire fighting foam to meet certain standards and the foam that meets those standards contains the pollutants.

Since the chemicals are in groundwater that flows into the city’s reservoirs, the city has decided to spend an estimated $30 million to have a permanent solution to remove them from the city’s drinking water and buying an apartment complex turned out to be part of that solution.