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Chemical facility reports it’s the source of latest 1,4-Dioxane spike in Greensboro

This story has been updated with information from Pittsboro.

The City of Greensboro again violated the terms of a Special Order by Consent this week after reporting elevated levels of 1,4-Dioxane had been released from its TZ Osborne wastewater treatment plant and into a drinking water supply.

Preliminary levels of toxic 1,4-Dioxane were reported at 52 parts per billion in discharge into South Buffalo Creek on April 5. The consent order and settlement agreement — among Greensboro, state regulators, Haw River Assembly and Fayetteville Public Works Commission — caps the amount of 1,4-Dioxane at 35 ppb.

Lanxess, an international chemical company with a plant in south Greensboro, discharges into the Patton trunk line, one of several that feed the wastewater treatment plant. Lanxess informed the city that self-monitoring showed it’s the source of the 1,4-Dioxane, according to a press release.

The company does not manufacture, use or store 1,4-Dioxane. However, the compound is often a byproduct of manufacturing processes, including plastics.

 

The samples are undergoing retesting to verify the results. (Update at 2 p.m., April  The Town of Pittsboro released a statement saying that the most current sampling information reports the Patton trunk line, the entry point for the discharge, showed a concentration of 95.1 ppb on April 4.)

As a result, Greensboro has ordered several industries to conduct further testing: In addition to Lanxess, Ecolab, Elastic Fabrics, Precision Fabrics and Vertellus.

Therese Vick, research director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, alerted Policy Watch to the exceedance. “Here we go again, Greensboro violated the Special Order by Consent,” she said. “Why did the Department of Environmental Quality not inform the public and issue a press release?”

A spokesperson for the NC Department of Environmental Quality said all Greensboro followed all notification protocols, including to the state, the public and downstream communities. The state is not required to issue a press release, the spokesperson said.

South Buffalo Creek feeds the Haw River, the drinking water supply for the town of Pittsboro; the Haw is a tributary of Jordan Lake, a major drinking water source for Raleigh, Cary and other municipalities in the Triangle. Traditional wastewater and water treatment systems do not remove the compound.

Because it has the first drinking water intake downstream, Pittsboro receives the brunt of Greensboro’s discharge. Pittsboro officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. [Update: Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy said in a press release that the town will continue to monitor the situation with “additional precautionary sampling.” Initial drinking water results are not yet available for the town.]

1,4-Dioxane is a toxic chemical used in degreasers that the EPA has classified as a likely carcinogen. There is no regulatory standard for 1,4-Dioxane, but the EPA has set a health advisory goal of 35 parts per billion for drinking water, which equals a 1-in-10,000 lifetime excess cancer risk. In surface water the rules are stricter: 0.35 ppb, is the legally binding standard.

This week’s release was the fourth reported exceedance from Greensboro since 2019. However levels of the compound in previous exceedances were much higher, ranging from 540 ppb to 1,210 ppb. The 2019 exceedance was traced to Shamrock Environmental, which has a facility in Browns Summit in northern Guilford County.

The sources of exceedances in 2021 are still unknown, officials from the NC Department of Environmental Quality reported last month. The City of Greensboro lists 29 Significant Industrial Users that discharge into the sewer system. Of those, six discharge into the Patton trunk line: GSO Plating, Vertellus, Elastic Fabrics, Lanxess, Precision Fabrics and Shamrock Environmental.

Greensboro officials said in the press release that they are meeting with Lanxess “to discuss next steps.”

This story has been corrected to reflect the legally binding standard of 1,4-Dioxane in surface water.

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