Pittsboro hit with another dose of 1,4-Dioxane from Greensboro

This story has been corrected. Greensboro told Policy Watch today that they do not believe Shamrock Environmental is the source of the contamination. The data provided by the Town of Pittsboro did not account for dilution factors in Greensboro.

Pittsboro’s drinking water took another hit of 1,4-Dioxane last week, which the town attributes to an “additional slug of contamination coming from Greensboro” on July 6, according to a press release today.

As Policy Watch reported, on June 30, the City of Greensboro illegally discharged levels of of 1,4-Dioxane 20 times higher than EPA recommended levels from its TZ Osborne wastewater treatment plant into the South Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Haw River, according to a NC Department of Environmental Quality press release. Pittsboro sources its drinking water from the Haw River.

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. The surface water goal is more stringent, at 0.35 ppb, a 1-in-1 million lifetime excess cancer risk.

Testing results announced by the Town of Pittsboro show that on July 6, levels of 1,4-Dioxane in raw water — straight from the Haw River — ranged from 26.5 parts per billion to 93.6 ppb. Treated drinking water at two sources were also elevated: Chatham Forest, 66.8 ppb and the water tank, 21. 7 ppb. Treated water from the Horton tank was 1.71 ppb.

These levels are above those on July 2 when raw water contained levels of 1,4-Dioxane at 76.5 parts per billion and treated drinking water showed levels of less than 1.25 ppb.

Meanwhile, upstream Shamrock Environmental test results showed that its mixed effluent into the TZ Osborne wastewater treatment plan on July 6 and 8  reached 98.8 ppb. A “flume grab” — before Shamrock’s wastewater had been mixed — measured 466 ppb.

However, City of Greensboro spokesman Elijah Williams said Shamrock Environmental is not the source of the contamination. Accounting for dilution factors, Shamrock’s levels would need to have been much higher for it to be responsible for this spill.  Shamrock Environmental is in the waste management business, including tanker cleaning services. It was responsible for a previous spill in 2019, but Greensboro has recently ruled out the company in this incident.

Although 1,4-Dioxane is extremely difficult to remove from drinking water using conventional treatments, the Town of Pittsboro is refreshing water in their stored tanks with better-quality finished water to dilute and flush the contamination.

The TZ Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greensboro receives effluent from both residential and industrial customers in Guilford County.

Pittsboro officials in a press release said that recent rainfalls, along with flushing the town system, is helping to reduce contamination levels. The town will continue sampling until the levels of 1,4-Dioxane are not detected.

Pittsboro expects to release results of its sampling through July 9 tomorrow.

Also, the Environmental Management Commission is scheduled to discuss 1,4-Dioxane at its meeting tomorrow, which begins at 9 a.m.

Pittsboro announces drinking water results after 1,4-Dioxane spill in Greensboro

The Haw River, as viewed from the Bynum bridge (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Levels of 1,4-Dioxane in finished, or treated, drinking water in Pittsboro are below the EPA and North Carolina’s drinking water health advisory level, but much higher than stricter advisory goals for surface water.

The Town of Pittsboro released the results today, based on sampling from July 1 through July 6, shortly after Greensboro illegally discharged the toxic compound from its TZ Osborne wastewater treatment plant on June 30. The source of the 1,4-Dioxane has not been publicly disclosed, but state documents show that the City of Greensboro has required additional sampling from one of its industrial customers, Shamrock Environmental.

Treated drinking water levels in Pittsboro ranged from 1.06 parts per billion to 5.56 ppb. The highest level was detected on July 6 at the Chatham Forest tank.

The EPA health advisory goal for 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water is 35 ppb, which represents a 1 in 10,000 lifetime excess cancer risk.

The drinking water goal is controversial because the EPA recommendation for 1,4-Dioxane in surface water is more stringent — 0.35 parts per billion. That represents a
1 in 1 million lifetime excess cancer risk for humans, which the scientific community considers “acceptable.”

If the EPA and North Carolina’s drinking water recommendation for 1,4-Dioxane were as rigorous as that of the surface water, Pittsboro’s levels would be three to 15 times above the guidelines.

Six states have enacted stricter guidelines for 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water than North Carolina, all of them below 1 ppb: Colorado, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Washington.

The raw water taken from the intake along the Haw River showed that on July 1, levels of 1,4-Dioxane were not detected. But on July 2, two days after the Greensboro release, concentrations in the Haw River hit 76.5 parts per billion. Levels decreased to 2.46 ppb on July 3, possibly because it had rained, before rebounding to 43.7 ppb by July 5.

These concentrations are seven to 200 times the EPA guidelines for surface water.

Pittsboro town staff will continue sampling until the results show non-detections “for an extended period,” according to a press release from Town Manager Chris Kennedy.

1,4-dioxane is toxic to people, causing liver and kidney damage, and increases the risk of cancer. It is used, and created as a byproduct, when manufacturing chemicals, paints, cosmetics, cleaning products, dyes, textiles, paper, and other products.

Below is a screenshot of the press release with the results and sampling points.

Greensboro violates consent order, discharges high levels of 1,4-Dioxane, heading toward Pittsboro, Fayetteville

South Buffalo Creek receives wastewater from Greensboro’s TZ Osborne treatment plant. The creek flows into the Haw River, a drinking water supply for the Town of Pittsboro. In turn, the Haw empties into Jordan Lake, which feeds the Cape Fear River. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The City of Greensboro has discharged levels of of 1,4-Dioxane 20 times higher than EPA recommended levels into the South Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Haw River, according to a NC Department of Environmental Quality press release. The contaminated discharge came from the city’s TZ Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant; the source of the contamination has not been disclosed.

Preliminary sampling results show that levels of the likely carcinogen ranged from 543 parts per billion to 687 parts per billion in the wastewater. The EPA’s drinking water health advisory level is 35 parts per billion; in surface water the level is 0.35 parts per billion.

DEQ has notified Pittsboro and Fayetteville, both downstream from Greensboro, that their drinking water could become contaminated. Pittsboro could be affected as early as tomorrow, and based on the levels in the discharge, DEQ said the town’s drinking water could exceed the health advisory level.

Greensboro reported sampling results to the North Carolina Division of Water Resources this afternoon. Additional sampling is underway at the Pittsboro raw water intake.

EPA has identified 1,4 dioxane as a likely human carcinogen. 1,4 dioxane is a clear liquid that is highly miscible in water. It has historically been used as a solvent stabilizer and is currently used for a wide variety of industrial purposes. It is difficult, if not impossible to completely remove from drinking water using traditional treatment methods.

These concentrations violate a Special Order by Consent between DEQ and the City of Greensboro, which set a maximum daily level of 45 parts per billion. In a notice on the city’s website, Greensboro said it is actively investigating possible sources of the substance. This discharge does not affect Greensboro’s drinking water quality.

The Special Order by Consent was triggered by an event nearly two years ago, when discharge from the city’s TZ Osborne plant contained levels of 1,4-Dioxane ranging from 705 ppb to 1,210 ppb. The source of the contamination was Shamrock Environmental, an industrial customer that discharges its wastewater to the Osborne plant.

Shamrock is headquartered in Browns Summit; it has several facilities in North Carolina and one in Virginia. The Patton Avenue plant, responsible for the discharge, is a tanker cleaning facility. It also treats and manages wastewater, recycles and disposes of drilling mud, and hauls waste.

At the time, Greensboro did not notify state environmental regulators for nearly a month, when the city’s next report was due. The consent agreement requires Greensboro to notify DEQ within 24 hours if there are detections greater than 45 ppb.

Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton told Policy Watch that “this new release of 1,4-Dioxane in the Haw is a result of weak enforcement of the water quality standards. The EPA has stated that levels of 0.35 ppb over a lifetime is harmful to human health. The proposed special order by consent is a result of previous violations, but is proposed to allow 33-45 ppb to be discharged into the Haw watershed and transported to downstream communities. This is unacceptable. We have to stop these discharges at the source.”

 

 

Greensboro, Durham and Orange County all pass LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances

The city councils in two of North Carolina’s largest cities unanimously passed LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policies Tuesday, the latest in a series of municipalities to do so since a statewide ban on such local protections expired last month.

Greensboro and Durham, the state’s third and fourth largest cities respectively, followed the moves made by the smaller towns of Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill last week. The Orange County Board of Commissioners also passed a county-wide non-discrimination policy.

“Government officials in cities large and small – and, this week, counties – are listening to their constituents, learning from the lived experiences of LGBTQ people, and coming to the appropriate conclusion: It’s time to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians from discrimination,” said Allison Scott, director of Policy & Programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality. “This week, as we enter a new political landscape at the national level, we celebrate progress locally and take heart in the hopeful message that tonight’s ordinances send to LGBTQ people not just in Durham, Greensboro, and Orange County — but all across North Carolina, and beyond.”

Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, said the moves by local governments is an important response and counter-weight to the wave of racist, xenophobic and ant-LGBTQ sentiment in recent years that has included murders and other hate-related crimes.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC

“With the rise of white supremacy in this country and the ongoing tumultuous transition of political power, these local protections will prove to be lifesaving mechanisms for the most vulnerable members of our communities in the years ahead. Equality NC eagerly anticipates other cities, towns and counties to follow suit,” Johnson said.

In Greensboro and Durham, the ordinances passed provide protections in employment and housing and, beyond LGBTQ identity, also offer non-discrimination protections for those with natural hair styles associated with a race or culture.

In Greensboro, where an existing 2015 non-discrimination policy was voided by the North Carolina General Assembly’s controversial passage of HB2, the new ordinance includes penalties including a fine of up to $500 for violations. That provision and the question of enforcement led to some tense discussion among council members.

“There has to be some teeth to give it substance,” said City Council member Justin Outling, who argued he wanted to see “substance behind the symbolism.”

“I am certainly for the harshest penalties available,” said City Council member Michelle Kennedy. But despite her feelings as an LGBTQ person in the community, Kennedy said, she is concerned that the city won’t have the legal ability through the state to enforce penalties.

Greensboro City Council Member Michelle Kennedy

“We watched HB2 rip us of the protections we already had in place, and we know that that is possible to happen again,” Kennedy said. “So I want to make absolutely sure that whatever we enact is not going to get clear cut by the state legislature as soon as we enact it. The city of Greensboro has been a direct target on issues such as these. It’s really important that whatever we put in place is ironclad and is not going to get upended.”

Carrboro’s new ordinance also included the possibility of a $500 fine. But Kennedy said the legislature has a history of targeting larger cities for such moves more often than smaller communities.

It is not yet clear how the legislature’s Republican majority will react to these new ordinances. In an interview posted to Twitter last week, N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) suggested the legislature will at least discuss the issue but suggested residents and businesses with objections may be best served in the courts.

“I think it is something that there will be some conversations about,” Berger said. “But my thought is that the more likely next step for folks that have concerns about what may be taking place would be those people who might be directly impacted in a way, maybe on their religious liberties, their businesses, or something.”

“I think the courts probably will be the appropriate forum for us to look at it,” he said said.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said such uncomfortable discussions — even if they are only about how such an ordinance would be enforced — are “how you make sausage.”

Vaughan acknowledged that as a progressive community unafraid to “poke the bear,” Greensboro “has a target on its back” when it comes to the state’s conservative legislature. But Vaughan called the new ordinance an important step in reclaiming — and expanding — the protections to which the city was committed well before the HB2 fight.

“We want everybody in our community to be protected,” Vaughan said. “We want Greensboro to truly be a welcoming place.”

Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tem of Durham, said she hopes other communities will follow the lead of those who have passed new ordinances this week and last.

“LGBTQ North Carolinians have the right to dignity, equality, and fairness,” Johnson said. “Durham’s nondiscrimination ordinance is an important step on the road to the realization of full civil and human rights for LGBTQ people. As a queer resident of this community as well as an elected official, I’m proud to support this ordinance and urge communities across North Carolina to adopt similar legislation.”

Public hearing, comment period announced for consent order with Greensboro over 1,4-Dioxane

The compound 1,4-Dioxane, a likely carcinogen, has been found in surface water and drinking water throughout the Cape Fear River Basin. Sources include industrial dischargers and runoff from farm fields that have been applied with biosolids from wastewater treatment plants. (Map: DEQ)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality will hold a remote public hearing next month about a Special Order of Consent to correct the City of Greensboro’s illegal discharges of 1,4-Dioxane into the downstream drinking water supply.

Because of the level of public interest, the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9, on a proposed Special Order by Consent (SOC) for the City of Greensboro’s T.Z. Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge permit.

The proposed order addresses issues related to the discharge of elevated levels of 1,4-dioxane from the wastewater treatment plan to South Buffalo Creek in the Cape Fear River Basin. 1,4-dioxane is an emerging compound that EPA has identified as a likely human carcinogen.

A two-part investigation Policy Watch published in July revealed that Greensboro officials had shielded its industrial dischargers of 1,4-Dioxane from scrutiny. They buried 1,4-Dioxane data in public reports. Some upstream utilities officials even pooh-poohed the dangers of 1,4-Dioxane; another falsely accused an NC State scientist of scaring the public for personal gain.

After an industrial discharger Shamrock Environmental accidentally discharged 1,4-Dioxane level into the sewer system and the wastewater treatment plant, the compound contaminated the Haw River and Pittsboro’s drinking water, at levels far above the recommended health level. Even though Greensboro utilities officials knew concentrations were high, they failed to notify downstream communities and DEQ for more than a month.

The EPA does not regulate 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water, but the compound is regulated in surface water, such as the Haw River, and in groundwater.

DEQ cited Greensboro with a Notice of Violation but has proposed fining the city just $5,000.

DEQ’s Division of Water Resources has amended the Special Order by Consent based on comments received on the draft, and has published a FAQ document to answer questions received from the first comment period. The City of Greensboro has accepted all of the changes, and the revised, proposed SOC is being provided for public input.

State regulators have also opened the public comment period, which runs through Dec. 9.

In addition to the public hearing, comments on the SOC may be submitted now through December 9, 2020 by emailing [email protected] with “T.Z. Osborne WWTP SOC” in the subject line. Comments may also be provided by calling 336-776-9691 and leaving a recorded message. Please state your name and any affiliation before commenting. Written comments may be mailed to
N.C. Division of Water Resources
Water Quality Permitting Section
Attn: Brianna Young
1617 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1617

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the hearing will be held remotely and the public is invited to provide comments online or by phone.

Date:   Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Time: 6 p.m. (Attendees may begin joining at 5:45 PM)
Join online: WebEx

Join by phone:  1-415-655-0003; (access code): 178 487 5557
To speak during the hearing, registration is required by noon, Dec. 9.