Environment

Greensboro official: “No trigger level” at which we were required to alert DEQ of high 1,4-Dioxane levels

Simple, but toxic: A chemical model of 1,4 dioxane, an emerging contaminant and likely carcinogen.

The City of Greensboro didn’t immediately report an alarming spike in levels of 1,4-Dioxane in its wastewater to state officials because there was no requirement that it do so, a top utility official said today.

A likely human carcinogen, 1,4-Dioxane was released from Greensboro’s TZ Osborne wastewater treatment plant on Aug. 7. The levels were high enough that it contaminated Pittsboro’s drinking water more than 4o miles downstream. There, concentrations reached 114 ppb, and likely contaminated the water supply for about a week. Although the EPA does not regulate 1,4-Dioxane, it has set a recommended health goal of 0.35 ppb.

Nonetheless, Greensboro officials didn’t disclose the increase until Sept. 27, when its monthly discharge report was due to the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

“Whether the levels were high or low, there was no trigger level” set by DEQ at which Greensboro was required to promptly alert state officials, Mike Borchers, assistant director of Greensboro’s Division of Water Resources, told Policy Watch.

North Carolina Health News first reported the discharge and spike in the 1,4-Dioxane levels in drinking water.

Greensboro has been reporting 1,4-Dioxane concentrations in its wastewater discharge each month since December 2017; as part of a targeted three-month monitoring plan, DEQ had required additional sampling this summer. The sampling and reporting are required as a condition of its federal discharge permit — an NPDES — that is administered by state environmental regulators.

At the end of August, levels of 1,4-Dioxane in the wastewater had decreased to 17.5 ppb, In September, the levels dropped further to 5.98 ppb, but rebounded again on Oct. 15, to 12.5 ppb, Borchers said.

While the decrease is notable, the concentrations are still far above the EPA’s health goal.

Greensboro is now required to submit weekly samples to DEQ. An agency spokeswoman said DEQ’s lab is still analyzing the first set of samples, which were received last week.

The discharge originated at Shamrock Environmental in Browns Summit. The facility contracts with other industries throughout the Southeast for oil recycling, hazardous and non-hazardous waste hauling and storage, and decontamination and vacuum services for trucks. In a press release, Shamrock Environmental said its facility, which is located in an industrial park across from the NC Soccer Complex, discharged 15,825 gallons of “non-hazardous wastewater” originating from a customer that did not report the material contained 1,4-Dioxane.

Shamrock Environmental last week declined to name the customer to Policy Watch.

“They won’t tell us, either,” Borchers said, adding that the company has been “supportive in trying to come up with a management strategy, and how we make the screening process better.”

The sources of the contaminant are industries and wastewater treatment plants upstream. Burlington, Greensboro, Asheboro and Reidsville receive the contaminated discharge, and since 1,4-Dioxane can’t be removed from either water or wastewater using traditional treatment methods, the plants  in turn, send that contaminated effluent into the Haw River, its tributaries and through the taps of Pittsboro water customers.

The upstream pollution sources have not always been cooperative in taking responsibility. According to a timeline posted on the Town of Pittsboro website, in early 2017, well after NC State University scientist Detlef Knappe had released his findings, Kevin Eason, then with Reidsville’s Public Works Director, called Knappe “an outlier” during a phone call to Pittsboro officials.

Easton then reportedly said that Reidsville Mayor Jay Donecker “was a scientist.” Donecker is a veterinarian.

Easton also blamed fracking in Stokes County for the contamination downstream. However, no fracking occurred in Stokes County; the NC Geological Survey contracted with a firm to only drill test holes.

As a result of the contamination, the Town of Pittsboro has been struggling to cap levels of 1,4-Dioxane in its drinking water since at least 2014, when  Knappe began studying the presence of the compound in the Haw River. Pittsboro has been using granulated activated charcoal to reduce the contamination in its drinking water, but the town is still searching for a long-term solution.

In late August of this year, CDM Smith, a consulting firm, presented town officials with cost estimates for various advanced treatments — reverse osmosis, ion exchange, granulated activated charcoal and ultra-violet light/advanced oxidation.

Costs ranged from $9 million to $27 million for treatment alone, plus an estimated $20 million to $69 million to expand the plant or seek other water supplies in order to meet projected increases in the number of customers.

Environment

Facts aren’t lining up in 1,4-Dioxane discharge by City of Greensboro, Shamrock Environmental

Shamrock Environmental in Browns Summit is across from the NC Soccer Complex. Nearly half the 7,100 residents in the census tract are from communities of color. There are more than two dozen permitted pollution sources in the area. (Map: DEQ Community Mapping System)

People who rely on the town of Pittsboro for their drinking water were likely exposed to high levels of 1,4-Dioxane for about a week in August, after the City of Greensboro discharged the compound, a likely carcinogen, into a tributary of the Haw River.

Levels of 1,4-Dioxane spiked to 114 parts per billion in the town’s drinking water in August, shortly after the discharge. Although the EPA doesn’t regulate 1,4-Dioxane, it has established a lifetime health goal of 0.35 ppb. At the drinking water forum sponsored by the Haw River Assembly in Pittsboro last night, NC State University scientist Detlef Knappe called the concentrations “very alarming.”

He estimated people were exposed to these levels for about six days before the contaminated water traveled through the town’s system.

North Carolina Health News first reported the discharge and spike in the 1,4-Dioxane levels in drinking water.

But many questions remain about who knew what and when — and the answers have not been forthcoming.

The discharge originated at Shamrock Environmental in Browns Summit. The facility contracts with other industries throughout the Southeast for oil recycling, hazardous and non-hazardous waste hauling and storage, and decontamination and vacuum services for trucks. In a press release, Shamrock Environmental said its facility, located in an industrial park, discharged 15,825 gallons of “non-hazardous wastewater” originating from a customer that did not report the material contained 1,4-Dioxane, a likely human carcinogen. The discharge occurred on Aug. 7.

Monty Hagler, spokesman for Shamrock Environmental declined to name the customer to Policy Watch.

The wastewater then entered the TZ Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greensboro, which in turn discharged it into South Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Haw River. 1,4-Dioxane then contaminated the Haw River, the drinking water supplies for thousands of people living downstream.

However, the City of Greensboro did not inform state environmental officials of the discharge until Sept. 27. That’s when the city submitted its monthly discharge report for August, and mentioned it to DEQ staff.  DEQ did not announce the discharge until mid-October. Neither DEQ nor Greensboro would name Shamrock as the source of the contamination until North Carolina Health News reported their refusal.

City officials reportedly told DEQ that they were unclear when or if they needed to report the discharge because 1,4 dioxane is an emerging contaminant and does not have a specific permit condition.

It’s unclear why Greensboro officials were unaware of the reporting requirements; a city spokeswoman could not be reached by phone or email for clarification.

In fact, a press release from the city says that since 2015 Greensboro “has been proactive in working with NCDEQ and the industry” to reduce the discharge of 1,4-Dioxane “to the maximum extent practicable” — about 80 percent. The city also noted that it had identified Shamrock Environmental in Browns Summit as a “significant source” of the compound as early as 2015.

And, according to DEQ documents online, the TZ Osborne plant had been monitoring its 1,4-Dioxane discharge since December 2017. DEQ also sampled sites in the Cape Fear River Basin in 2018 and posted the results online.

Then in April of this year DEQ sent letters to treatment plants and industrial dischargers throughout the Cape Fear River Basin about a three-month investigative monitoring program to begin in July. The letter specifically mentioned 1,4-Dioxane.

On July 22, 2019, DEQ requested the plant provide a plan to reduce the amount of the compound leaving the plant. That plan was due Sept. 23.

According to online records, Shamrock Environmental has not been cited for violations in North Carolina, although the database is not comprehensive. But the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency did issue a Notice of Violation to the company in March 2016 for failing to obtain a proper hazardous waste manifest.

1,4-Dioxane has long been a contaminant of concern in the entire Cape Fear River Basin. In 2014, DEQ began a monitoring program from Reidsville to Wilmington, including the Haw River, the Cape Fear and several tributaries.

That monitoring showed levels as high as 1,030 ppb near Reidsville and 543 ppb near McLeansville.

Previous monitoring of Pittsboro’s drinking water showed varying levels of 1,4-Dioxane:

  • 15.6 ppb in 2014
  • 17.1 ppb in 2015
  • 7.5 ppb in 2016

A second monitoring period ran over 18 months from 2017 to 2018. That sampling showed levels of 1,4-Dioxane at 35 ppb in the Haw River near Pittsboro on May 9, 2018.

On June 13, 2018, the compound was found at 11 ppb in the upper arm of Jordan Lake, where the Haw enters the reservoir. Jordan Lake is the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people, including those living in Chatham and Wake counties.

Julie Grzyb, a permit writer in the Division of Water Resources, told attendees at a public forum in Pittsboro last night that the state could pursue enforcement action against the city. Even though Shamrock was the discharger, Greensboro is held responsible because it holds the discharge permit. DEQ could also enter into a Special Order by Consent with Greensboro, a legal document that lays out requirements for facilities that are “unable to consistently comply with the terms, conditions, or limitations” in their discharge permits.

News

Civil rights groups launch court challenge to Greensboro panhandling ordinance

This just in from the folks at the ACLU of North Carolina:

Three people who have experienced homelessness and a national advocacy group today filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block a Greensboro ordinance that criminalizes “aggressive” panhandling and many activities protected by the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of North Carolina, Legal Aid of North Carolina and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. The groups say that Greensboro’s ordinance violates the free speech, equal protection, and due process rights of people who ask for contributions in public places in the city.

“I ask for donations only because I need the money,” said Terry Lindsay, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, who is legally blind and regularly panhandles in downtown Greensboro and on Gate City Boulevard. “This law will only make it more likely that I will become homeless again. I need help keeping my housing and providing for myself, not more obstacles that will keep me from having a better life and being able to have clothes, food, and a place to live.”

“Asking people for money in public spaces is protected by the First Amendment, and the right to free speech applies equally to everyone in Greensboro,” said Emily Seawell, staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Criminalizing unpopular or uncomfortable speech violates the Constitution, and taking a punitive approach to poverty does nothing to address the root causes of why people in Greensboro are resorting to asking strangers for help providing for their basic needs.” Read more

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Tomorrow: Trial over judicial primaries begins in Greensboro

A trial over lawmakers’ cancellation of the 2018 judicial primaries will begin tomorrow in federal court in Greensboro.

The North Carolina Democratic party sued lawmakers and the state alleging the elimination infringed upon their First and 14th Amendment rights to Freedom of Association, or the rights of groups to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members.

You can read more about the elimination of the judicial primaries here.

The primaries had been reinstated by U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles as part of a preliminary injunction but then the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals cancelled them again in a decision that was not unanimous.

Candidate filing for judicial elections begins June 18. Lawmakers are still sorting through plans for judicial redistricting in part of the state.

The hearing in Greensboro is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. and is open to the public. Electronics are not permitted in the courtroom and members of the public who attend the hearing will be required to show courthouse officials their photo identification.

News

Greensboro is the latest N.C. city to announce lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

 

North Carolina’s third largest city is joining the state and a number of other municipalities in filing a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

On Tuesday night the Greensboro City Council passed a resolution saying “the opioid crisis unreasonably interferes with rights common to the general public of Greensboro,” and “involves a significant interference with the public health, safety, peace, comfort, and convenience of citizens and residents of Greensboro.”

 From the story in Greensboro’s News & Record:

It’s technically not a class-action suit, according to Mike Fox of the Tuggle Duggins law firm in Greensboro, one of the local attorneys who will handle the case. The city will be able to negotiate independently if leaders don’t feel the settlement is high enough, he said.

Hundreds of local governments across the country have joined the suit in an attempt to recoup the millions they’ve spent fighting opioid addiction and the fallout from related issues.

“This is something that is tearing our community apart,” Fox said. “The crisis is real, and communities like Greensboro all across the country are struggling to find a solution to it.”

Fox said the city will argue that manufacturers and distributors violated laws on drug distribution and reporting; were negligent by selling drugs they knew would cause harm; and were fraudulent in their claims that opioids are not as addictive as now believed.

 

Late last year Attorney General Josh Stein announced his office was filing suit against Insys Therapeutics, Inc., manufacturer of Subsys, a synthetic opioid spray.

The drug is about 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more than morphine. The lawsuit alleges the company used kickbacks, fraud and deceptive marketing to push doctors to prescribe the highly addictive drug to patients for which it wasn’t approved.

The drug, approved for cancer patients experiencing pain that other drugs can’t address, has been much more widely prescribed. Over-prescription of such drugs has greatly contributed to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Since then more than 200 local governments have filed similar lawsuits, including more than 15 in North Carolina and native tribal governing organizations.