1,4-Dioxane detected in Pittsboro water samples following Greensboro discharge


PITTSBORO — Greensboro city officials have alerted Pittsboro town staff and commissioners to another accidental discharge of 1,4-Dioxane — a chemical the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems a likely human carcinogen — into the Haw River.

The discharge last Tuesday comes five months after a similar discharge in November that ultimately led to staff finding contaminated water in Pittsboro’s water storage tanks and provisions for water users there to get drinking water from Chatham Marketplace, where water has been treated to filter out the 1,4-Dioxane.

Greensboro Water Reclamation Manager Elijah Williams emailed an extensive list of Pittsboro staff, elected officials and water quality activists Wednesday morning warning of elevated levels of the chemical compound appearing to come from the Patton Trunkline, one of several pipes which feed the wastewater treatment plant.

“The City of Greensboro received laboratory data today at 11:51 a.m. that indicated the T. Z. Osborne (TZO) (wastewater treatment plant) effluent grab sample taken on Tuesday, April 5 at 7:20 a.m. had a 1,4-Dioxane concentration of 52.2 micrograms per liter,” Williams wrote. 

These levels exceed the 35-micrograms-per-liter limit established in the Special Order of Consent between Greensboro and the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality. 

Following protocol, Greensboro officials alerted NCDEQ and municipalities downstream, requesting more samples be taken in the following days to monitor 1,4-Dioxane concentration levels. 

Greensboro also asked Shamrock Environmental, a waste management and tank wash service located near the source of the discharge, to test its pipes for 1,4-Dioxane levels and conduct a formal review of last week’s operations. It is unknown if the company is suspected of discharging the chemical. 

The slug could take days to reach Pittsboro, town manager Chris Kennedy said during the town commissioners’ budget workshop last Thursday, and in a statement released on Friday afternoon, Kennedy provided additional information regarding the discharge. 

“The most current sampling information received by the Town reports the Patton Trunkline in Greensboro had a 1,4 Dioxane concentration level of 95.1 ug/L from its April 4 sample collection date,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy revealed multiple industries in Greensboro had been asked to review their facilities and their weekly composite water results. Those companies include Ecolab, Elastic Fabrics, Lanxess, Precision Fabrics and Vertellus. 

He warned residents to be aware of this discharge, since the town’s water supply may contain contaminants that exceed the health advisory limit in the following days. He also said Pittsboro was testing water samples and was currently awaiting results. 

“The town will continue to monitor the situation with additional precautionary sampling,” Kennedy said, “and we will continue to discuss remedies with NCDEQ and the City of Greensboro.”

Kennedy’s prescient warning became a reality when the water samples collected from Pittsboro showed 1,4-Dioxane concentrations high enough to be detected on April 6 — just one day after Greensboro officials told town staff about the discharge. 

The last recorded sample grab showed a 1,4-Dioxane concentration of 11.9 micrograms per liter, higher than the previous week’s composite of 1.32 micrograms per liter. 

“The numbers indicate that at least some portion of the 1,4-Dioxane from this event has already entered our distribution system, evidenced by the finished grab samples,” Kennedy said Monday afternoon. “The town has taken samples from our water tanks and expects those results in the next day or two.”

Monday’s update included additional information from Greensboro, revealing the nature of the discharge. The Bryan Park trunkline — which transports water to the water treatment facility — saw concentrations of the carcinogen as high as almost 600 micrograms per liter. 

Pittsboro staff anticipate results from water storage tank samples in the coming days, but Kennedy warned 1,4-Dioxane levels could already be close to the EPA’s limit of 35 micrograms per liter. 

“Based on the current level of contamination, as the town and others seek to determine the current stream flow rate of the Haw River and sampling data, the Town of Pittsboro wishes to inform our citizens, residents, and water customers that levels of 1,4 Dioxane in the Pittsboro drinking water source may exceed the EPA’s Drinking Water Health Advisory Level of 35 ug/L and to act accordingly,” Kennedy wrote. 

In an update provided Tuesday, Kennedy said Pittsboro and other entites are keeping watch on the stream flow rate of the Haw River and sampling data.

The EPA has identified 1,4-Dioxane, a clear liquid that is highly miscible in water, as a likely human carcinogen, the statement said.

“1,4-Dioxane has historically been used as a solvent stabilizer and is currently used for a wide variety of the EPA’s Drinking Water Health Advisory Level of 35 ug/L based on a 1 in 10,000 cancer risk for lifetime exposure. The town encourages our customers to consult the EPA’s Risk Evaluation webpage for 1,4 dioxane and the EPA’s Technical Fact Sheet for 1,4-Dioxane for additional guidance,” referencing an EPA document found here: https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/risk-evaluation-14-dioxane.

Members of the public also expressed concern over the latest events from Greensboro. 

Dr. Jennifer Platt, a former Pittsboro Water Quality Task Force member, spoke to town commissioners during the board’s regular Monday night meeting. She urged commissioners to look at the recommendations made by the Water Quality Task Force in October 2020. 

“Perhaps it’s time for the commissioners to reconsider the role of what the Pittsboro Water Quality Task Force did, and expand it to be along the lines of an environmental quality task force,” Platt said. She cited some steps Chatham Park developers are taking to address some of the environmental concerns, including their pledges to help build a new water reclamation facility. 

By establishing a new task force, Platt said, the town can prepare for future environmental crises. 

“This is a perfect time to do this,” she said. “We can really stake the town out and also look at other recommendations.” 

Elaine Chiosso, the executive director of the Haw River Assembly, told the News + Record Tuesday that while she and other water quality activists are frustrated over the continued polluting of the river, she is glad the amendments to the Special Order of Consent (SOC) between Greensboro and the state have gone into effect.

“After almost 10 years of working on this, we’ve definitely come to a place where a real investigation is happening that can lead to finally stopping this,” Chiosso said.

Chiosso noted this incident is the first time Greensboro has identified specific companies and industries publicly which may have a role in the discharges of the likely carcinogenic compound. For her, accountability is the first step in the right direction.

“This is the first time, and that’s big right there because no industry wants to be named on a press release,” Chiosso said. “They’re paying attention because they do not want to be called out for being polluters.”

But accountability is not enough, said Clean Haw River co-founder Katie Bryant. Despite the new amended SOC, she feels more needs to be done before the discharges come to a halt.

“The SOC is great, and it’s forcing them (the industries) to get their numbers lower than what was expected before,” she said, “but really our end goal and our worry is that once this SOC has gone, where are the numbers gonna go from there?”

Bryant said she wants to see legislative regulations put in place to avoid future discharges into the Haw River. To do that, however, Bryant said Pittsboro town staff and elected officials need to work with the activists and the community to come together to find a solution.

“We all have to do the reading; we all have to do the research and start paying attention to this more,” she said. “What’s sparking the change is the community coming together and saying, ‘Why is nobody doing anything?’ We all have to hold each other accountable.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.