GREENSBORO — Cindy Perry walked to the podium at Greensboro’s City Council meeting last Tuesday evening with a water bottle — and some paper cups — in hand.
The bottle contained potable water from Pittsboro’s treatment plant, the same water which has, for the last few weeks, contained traces of 1,4-Dioxane contamination resulting from a Nov. 3 discharge into the Haw River of the likely carcinogen from Greensboro.
Perry, who was sworn in as Pittsboro's new mayor on Monday, offered some to each of the sitting members of the city council. No one took her up on the offer.
Perry — along with three other Pittsboro residents — spoke during the public comments period of the council’s meeting, sharing concerns about the dangers associated with the 1,4-Dioxane discharges.
“It’s a health crisis for our children, vulnerable citizens and all of us,” Perry said.
Pittsboro is the first municipality downstream from Greensboro to draw water from the Haw River and the only municipality using the river as its exclusive source of water. Just this year, Pittsboro experienced two discharges of 1,4-Dioxane — an unregulated chemical often used as an industrial solvent — in a five-month period. It is believed to be linked to a variety of illnesses, including liver disease, kidney disease and even cancer.
Perry said that while progress and agreements have been made on new regulations and higher fines for breaking the new rules, Pittsboro residents are still concerned about future contamination.
“There is not a solution yet, and the source of the poison is still unknown,” Perry said. “It is not an exaggeration to say it is a matter of life and death.”
Katie Bryant — former chairperson of the Pittsboro Water Quality Task Force and member of the Clean Haw River initiative — spoke after Perry at the Greensboro meeting. She talked about the health risks associated with 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water, as well as discussing how she has felt the community has been tossed aside.
“Pittsboro has not been given a voice or a seat at the table in the discussion of clean drinking water,” Bryant said.
Bryant thanked Greensboro officials for their implementation of stricter regulations, but she said that wasn’t enough to combat the overall issue of pollution in the Haw River.
“For years, Pittsboro’s water has been contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane by industries here in Greensboro,” she said. “Because we don’t have regulatory standards, nobody knows how much we should consume and can’t set a safe standard.”
Bryant emotionally conveyed to Greensboro’s City Council that according to the Clean Water Act, in order to adhere to a one in one million risk of cancer, the amount of 1,4-Dioxane in water should not exceed 0.35 micrograms per liter, or 0.35 parts per billion. However, a source in Greensboro — as yet not identified — has discharged amounts of 1,4-Dioxane exceeding way beyond that 0.35 parts per billion threshold Bryant discussed and beyond the EPA’s recommendation of 35 parts per billion based on a 1 in 10,000 risk for cancer.
“You’ve continually exposed Pittsboro to 1000 micrograms per liter,” Bryant said. “Just this year, we had two dumps — one of 600 micrograms per liter and in November, more than 700 micrograms per liter. It’s appalling.”
Pittsboro residents Laura Peterson and Jennifer Platt also spoke, via Zoom. Peterson said Pittsboro has among the highest concentrations of 1,4 in the United States.
“We had a dump in August 2019 that we were not notified of, and we all drank that water unknowingly,” Peterson said. “This has happened twice now this year...1,4-Dioxane is not just dangerous through injestion but also through transdermal contact. My family is afraid to even step into the shower each day.”
Platt — a member of Pittsboro’s Water Quality Task Force — said it would benefit everyone to treat water pollutants such as 1,4-Dioxane at the source, rather than leaving it up to municipal water treatment plants downstream to wait for the pollutants to reach them.
“It is by far the most cost-effective option to treat water pollutants at the source,” she said. “It should be up to them, the industries.”
Platt warned if Greensboro did not have a strict pretreatment program requirement for its offending industries, its own residents would eventually face some of the financial consequences pollution causes.
“Your taxpayers will eventually face the tremendous financial burden in order to meet increasingly strict water quality standards that are likely to happen in the coming years,” Platt said.
Perry told the News + Record after the meeting she believed confronting Greensboro’s commissioners in-person was more than beneficial.
“We were called to the front of the chamber by several council members, expressing total support for Pittsboro,” Perry wrote. “The assistant manager indicated that Greensboro is paying for our current water testing, that they are switching to a new lab to get quicker results from their testing and they wanted to hear from us on what else we needed.”
Greensboro City Council At Large Marikay Abuzuaiter told the News + Record she was thankful for Pittsboro residents making an appearance at the meeting.
“We appreciated hearing from Mayor-elect Perry and the others when they expressed their concern to us at our Greensboro City Council meeting,” Abuzuaiter wrote in an email prior to Perry's swearing-in as mayor on Monday.
“I have full confidence that our city staff is working diligently and expeditiously to do everything they possibly can to make sure the drinking water supplies of our downstream neighbors are safe to drink,” she wrote. “We affirm our commitment to abiding by all of the provisions and amendment made to the SOC (Special Order of Consent), and this includes finding out the source of the most recent discharge and doing everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Perry said she wants to continue to work with Greensboro in finding a solution to the 1,4-Dioxane discharges and ultimately, put an end to the contamination of Pittsboro’s water.
“It was a remarkable session,” Perry wrote. “I believe we made a very favorable impression — we were not confrontational, but frank and urged collaboration and cooperation.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com.