Pittsboro 'remains confident' water source safe after discharge of likely carcinogen from Greensboro

Thursday, November 11, 2021
After testing for carcinogen, Pittsboro says water safe
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After testing the raw water sample, the Town said it appears it has "dodged the bullet" with the Greensboro water release.

PITTSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- A likely human carcinogen was dumped into the Haw River, the state said.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Water Resources said that Monday, Greensboro notified the department about a high level of 1,4-Dioxane that was released from its wastewater plant into the Haw River.

A sample test result Greensboro received indicated a level of 767 ug/L (micrograms per liter) of 1,4-Dioxane released from their T.Z. Osborne Wastewater Plant location, which discharges into South Buffalo Creek, in the Haw River, a tributary of the Cape Fear River basin.

The current EPA's Drinking Water Health Advisory Level is 35 ug/L based on a 1 in 10,000 cancer risk for lifetime exposure, according to the Division of Water Resources.

Pittsboro resident Shawn Leach says his water is contaminated.

"I had a company come out and test our water and sure enough, it was pretty contaminated," Leach said. "So I had them install a whole house filtration system."

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"It was about $3,000 but my health is worth it," he said. "So I'm just going to let as many people know as I can, especially in my neighborhood, in this area, about the problem because we're not told by city officials.. I found this out on my own online."

The City of Greensboro confirmed that the concentration exceeded the city's Special Order by Consent (SOC) compliance value of 45 micrograms per liter.

"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," city officials said.

The Town of Pittsboro said Wednesday night that after being notified of the excessive release of 1,4 dioxane by the City of Greensboro, Pittsboro staffers "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 and commenced to grab samples from our raw water intake, from the finished water exiting the water treatment plant and each tank on the Town system."

After testing the raw water sample, the Town said it appears it has "dodged the bullet" with the Greensboro water release.

Samples showed nearly non-detectable level of 1,4 dioxane and the tanks, which hold water for days after treatment, showed "no alarming amounts" of 1,4 dioxane.

The Town said it was relieved by the results but conceded that an excessive release of 1,4 dioxane could have contaminated the drinking water supply, and it noted that Pittsboro was "simply lucky" this time.

Pittsboro will continue to take samples and officials said they "remain confident" the water is safe to drink.

Emily Sutton is the riverkeeper for the nonprofit Haw River Assembly. She said this contamination has been an ongoing issue and said at least 3,000 people are impacted, starting in Pittsboro. But she said that's not all.

"Going to further communities downstream, people who pull from Jordan Lake, people in Fayetteville and people in Wilmington further downstream," Sutton said.

"We know that through lab studies, through animal testing that this impacts kidney health and liver health and causes specific cancers," Sutton said. "It's a carcinogen, but it also has risks for reproductive health systems and we don't know the full scope of how much a person can take in before these effects start to impact their body."

The EPA said short-term exposure to high levels of 1,4-Dioxane may result in nausea, drowsiness, headache, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

Mom Katie Bryant helped start the advocacy group Clean Haw River.

"Just go home and turn your tap water on," Bryant said. "How would you feel every time you turn it on knowing that 'okay, I'm potentially adding to my risk every day drinking this water when we have these spikes?'"

Bryant said she moved out of Pittsboro because of the contaminated water.

She suggests drinking bottled water until all the data is presented.

"If you can at least eliminate that for now during these dumps, you're potentially helping your family," Bryant said.