PITTSBORO — For the first time in more than a year, Pittsboro’s drinking water could be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane after the City of Greensboro discharged levels 20 times higher than EPA recommendations into one of the Haw River’s tributaries — violating a Special Order by Consent and prompting Pittsboro to shut down water intake.
Preliminary samples indicate levels of 1,4-Dioxane — a suspected carcinogen — from 543 parts per billion to 687 parts per billion were discharged from Greensboro’s TZ Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant last Wednesday, according to a press release from the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality and first reported by N.C. Policy Watch. The EPA’s drinking water health advisory level is 35 parts per billion.
Until direct samples from Pittsboro’s drinking supply have been processed, however, it remains uncertain the impact Greensboro’s upstream water contamination might have on residents, town representatives say.
“It takes several days for an accredited lab to actually perform the analysis,” Pittsboro Water Plant Superintendent Adam Pickett told the News + Record last Friday. “So I expect us to have something towards the latter part of (this) week.”
As of press time, the samples were en route to Meritech Labs in Reidsville for processing and results were expected to come back within a few days. But Town Manager Chris Kennedy sought to allay residents’ potential anxiety in a press release Tuesday.
“We are confident that the water is safe for consumption and use in both residential and commercial applications,” he said, “but we urge precaution until test samples are returned.
Upon learning of the contamination last week, Pittsboro staff began sampling the town’s raw water intake, Pickett said, and collected daily samples over the next five days. The town also took steps last week to limit introduction of the contaminant into the town’s drinking water.
“After being notified of the excessive contamination in Greensboro, Pittsboro staff shut down draws of raw water out of the Haw River to allow potentially contaminated water to flow downstream beyond the entry point of the Pittsboro’s raw water intake,” Kennedy said in a joint statement with Pickett and Engineering Director Kent Jackson.
After 12 hours, the town’s raw water draw was restored to meet residents’ daily demands for potable water.
So far, the original source of 1,4-Dioxane contamination remains unknown. Greensboro is obligated to limit 1,4-Dioxane discharge per a Special Order of Consent between the city and NCDEQ signed in February. The SOC stipulates no more than 45 parts per billion of 1,4-Dioxane may be discharged per day. The agreement was triggered in 2019 after the discovery that Shamrock Environmental — an environmental and industrial waste management services company — was dumping 705 parts per billion to 1,210 parts per billion of 1,4-Dioxane at the TZ Osborne plant. The Shamrock location in Greensboro is a tanker cleaning facility that also manages wastewater and recycles drilling mud.
“That Greensboro or whoever’s responsible for it there didn’t notify the general public down here is just appalling,” Sally Bassett, a Pittsboro resident, told the News + Record. “It’s just alarming to me that they’re getting away with this.”
As of Tuesday, a notice on Greensboro’s website said the city was still unsure where the most recent contamination originated.
“City staff has notified and is in coordination with the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and downstream utilities and is actively investigating possible sources of the substance,” it reads.
The notice points out “this discharge does not affect Greensboro’s drinking water quality.”
“So that’s what Greensboro is working on,” Pickett said, “trying to figure out where this source is coming from all of a sudden. And we’re working with Greensboro, as well, so hopefully we can get this knocked down pretty quick.”
The best way to protect yourself is to reduce the number of products containing 1,4-dioxane and to take control of the quality of your drinking water by installing home water purifiers to ensure your water is safe to drink. Health officials say that you’re unlikely to ingest enough 1,4-dioxane through brushing your teeth, bathing or washing dishes to be of concern.
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @dldolder.