Pittsboro, Chatham County urge DEQ to do more on contaminants

Posted 7/31/20

PITTSBORO — As study after study is released showing significant levels of unregulated chemicals in the Haw River, the town of Pittsboro and Chatham County have each issued strong letters to the …

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Pittsboro, Chatham County urge DEQ to do more on contaminants

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PITTSBORO — As study after study is released showing significant levels of unregulated chemicals in the Haw River, the town of Pittsboro and Chatham County have each issued strong letters to the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality urging the agency to do more to reduce the discharge of contaminants upstream.

On June 22, the N.C. DEQ provided a statement requesting feedback on a Special Order by Consent for T.Z. Osborne Plant in Greensboro. According to the DEQ website, a Special Order by Consent may be used if “a facility is unable to consistently comply with the terms, conditions, or limitations in an NPDES Permit.” The T.Z. Osborne Plant in Greensboro was cited by DEQ on November 14, 2019 for elevated discharges of 1,4-dioxane, a likely carcinogen identified by the EPA.

“The purpose of the draft Order is to reduce the concentrations of 1,4-dioxane being discharged from the wastewater treatment plant and within two years meet a target of 35 μg/l, based on EPA’s drinking water health advisory, to protect downstream drinking water intakes,” the DEQ release read.

Both the Pittsboro and Chatham County letters were in response to the DEQ’s draft Special Order of Consent.

Both letters urged DEQ to change the target level of 35 μg/l of 1,4-dioxane to .35 μg/l, a difference of 100 times, since the lower amount is the actual recommendation by both the EPA and the state to reduce cancer risk.

The letter from Pittsboro, which was signed by Mayor Jim Nass, noted the expense that the town has and will incur to studying the removal of these types of chemicals from its drinking water as well as other steps the town has been forced to take to address the issue. The town has spent $88,540 in the past year and budgeted $172,728 this fiscal year to address the issues.

“It is unfair to put the financial burden on a small town when it’s more cost effect to prevent and treat pollution at the source,” Nass’ letter read.

Pittsboro urged DEQ to modify the NPDES permit for the T.Z. Osborne Plant in Greensboro which would include having significant industrial users and pre-treatment facilities use “a best technology approach” to “capture and/or remove” 1,4-dioxane from the system. The letter also asks that Greensboro immediately contact Pittsboro when the levels are found to be above the standard. The town also asked for a report from Greensboro on the possible sources of the chemicals as well as quarterly reports of progress. The town also urged daily testing of the T.Z. Osborne Plant in Greensboro which would be shared with Pittsboro and other municipalities downstream.

The letter from Chatham County, which was signed by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Karen Howard, asked that the source reduction and plans be “required” rather than “voluntary” as currently listed in the draft Special Order of Consent. In addition, the Special Order of Consent orders the T.Z. Osborne Plant in Greensboro to develop reduction plans and study feasibility of treatment technologies if the levels are not reduced within a year. The county has asked DEQ to make that effective immediately.

“Downstream water sources are already spending money to research and purchase treatment technologies to remove contaminants for which industries in other municipalities are significant contributors,” Howard’s letter read.

The deadline to provide comments to the DEQ was July 24. The notice from DEQ about the intent to issue a Special Consent Order said that a “public hearing may be held if there is a significant degree of public interest.” There has been word yet from DEQ if that threshold has been reached.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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