Pittsboro, Chatham Marketplace to provide clean water to residents

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PITTSBORO — The town of Pittsboro and Chatham Marketplace have finalized a partnership to help bring clean drinking water to town residents.

Chatham Marketplace has agreed to allow Pittsboro’s water users to access the grocery store’s water dispensing system, which uses reverse osmosis and UV light to treat the water for PFAS and PFOS — known as “forever chemicals” and considered health risks if consumed in high levels.

Manager Evan Diamond said the process started when local activist Jennifer Platt approached him at Chatham Marketplace about finding a way to source treated water and make it accessible to residents.

“She was initially making the connection between us and the town,” Diamond said.

Pittsboro has struggled with water quality because of contamination in the Haw River, the main source of Pittsboro’s drinking water. As recently as the past month, the town experienced a spike in 1,4-Dioxane levels in the water related to an improper discharge from a yet-unnamed Greensboro industry.

After further discussions with town officials and Town Manager Chris Kennedy, a formal partnership was forged to help address some issues with deadlines associated with Pittsboro’s water treatment plant project, as well as the recent pollutant discharges from Greensboro.

Kennedy told the News + Record the town has been working to expand the treatment capacities at the water plant in Pittsboro. This would be done through the installation of a Granular Activated Carbon system — but that project has been delayed because of supply chain shortages.

“We were shooting for the end of this calendar year — we were pushing hard for that,” Kennedy said. “We knew that was ambitious, but we really wanted to try to kind of make that more to settle the minds and the hearts of our citizens and residents and customers, but we weren’t able to meet that target.”

Kennedy said because of the delay, the town found itself in need of a more immediate solution.

“I think it provides an alternative to our customers,” Kennedy said of Chatham Marketplace’s solution. “If they have concerns about our water, they can go and have a local destination, a place where they can go get water free of charge.”

Chatham Marketplace is allowing Pittsboro water customers, including residents of Chapel Ridge, to receive free water at its treated water dispenser in their grocery store. Residents who pay for Pittsboro’s water can present a coupon code to the store’s cashier. Customers must provide their own container to fill with the treated water.

Kennedy pointed out that when it comes to levels of PFOA, PFOS and PFAS, the levels are not that different between Chatham Marketplace’s treated water and the town’s.

Kennedy said recently measured levels of PFOA, PFOS and PFAS in the town’s treated water were 3.0 ng/L, 1.8 ng/L and 5.1 ng/L, respectively. In comparison, Chatham Marketplace’s levels for PFOA, PFOS and PFAS were 0.85 ng/L, 1.2 ng/L and 0.64 ng/L, respectively. All of these levels are well below the EPA’s recommended 40 ng/L for PFOA and PFOS.

Despite the town’s PFAS and PFOS levels staying close to Chatham Marketplace’s levels, Kennedy said he believes having a second option for drinking water will help ease the minds of residents.

“We really are proud to provide the alternative for those who want to opt in to doing so,” Kennedy said. “It’s really just an ability to provide that supplement and alternative where previously they didn’t think it was available to them, and hopefully, that’s comforting to our customers.”

Kennedy said there is no limit to how much people can take, since the water is being paid for by the residents’ monthly water bill.

Chatham Marketplace is a local co-op grocery store located in Chatham Mills on 480 Hillsboro St. in Pittsboro. The marketplace is owned by members of the community, who pay a fee to be an owner of the grocery store. One of Chatham Marketplace’s seven principles include “Cooperation among Cooperatives,” which is defined as “cooperative owners and the cooperative movement in general is served best by working collaboratively with other local, regional, national, and international co-op organizations.”

The partnership is an example of this principle, according to Diamond. He said that while he did not imagine Chatham Marketplace would play a role in becoming a solution to a long-time problem in Pittsboro, he was excited to see what this partnership brings to the community.

“What’s really important to us is being catalysts for cooperation in the community,” he said. “Whether that’s for owners or not, one of our missions is just trying to be useful so this seems like a very good way to fulfill that and be a partner in town and help people get some water.”

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

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