Press Release | November 18, 2021

Conservation groups secure DEQ investigation into toxic 1,4-dioxane pollution in Cape Fear and Haw watersheds in North Carolina

Settlement sets better process, public reporting, and reduction of Greensboro pollution

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Haw River Assembly, and the City of Fayetteville today reached a settlement with the City of Greensboro and North Carolina regulators that further limits Greensboro’s 1,4-dioxane discharges, and requires the Department of Environmental Quality to investigate sources of toxic 1,4-dioxane pollution in the Cape Fear River basin, including the Haw River. DEQ must also publicly report to the Environmental Management Commission actions it takes to reduce 1,4-dioxane pollution in the basin, including permit limits on polluters. The Cape Fear River basin supplies drinking water for nearly one million people in North Carolina, including communities in Pittsboro, Chatham County, Sanford, Harnett, Dunn, and Fayetteville.

“The agreement puts Greensboro on the path to controlling its 1,4-dioxane pollution and protecting downstream communities, but it isn’t the last word,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’ll monitor the sampling and watershed investigations secured as part of this settlement and ensure polluters are held accountable. We encourage DEQ to go beyond those investigations and act on Greensboro’s pending permit application to impose strict limits on 1,4-dioxane pollution to protect communities downstream over the long-term.”

Today’s settlement secures a better process to identify 1,4-dioxane pollution sources that includes sampling industrial sources, a requirement that Greensboro publicly post sampling data and information about its investigation of pollution sources, and higher penalties for pollution than an earlier agreement between Greensboro and the commission. It further requires Greensboro to sample downstream at Pittsboro’s drinking water intake on the Haw River and in Jordan Lake. The city is also required by the settlement to notify downstream water utilities within 24 hours of any 1,4-dioxane discharge that exceeds limits, which are now reduced from the previous goal of 45 ppb, or parts per billion, to 35 ppb in the first year and includes a new, reduced limit of 23 ppb by the third year of the order.

“Without these legal challenges brought by Haw River Assembly and City of Fayetteville, the original order would have allowed Greensboro to continue polluting the Haw River with higher levels of 1,4-dioxane, and with much lower penalties for extraordinarily high discharges,” said Emily Sutton, the Haw Riverkeeper. “The monitoring required under this agreement will identify the industries responsible for these toxic discharges in Greensboro and put the responsibility of safe and clean water on polluters, instead of the downstream users.”

The EMC approved the settlement during its November 18, 2021 meeting.

In April 2021, the Southern Environmental Law Center challenged the earlier agreement between Greensboro and the EMC in the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings on behalf of the Haw River Assembly. The City of Fayetteville also challenged the agreement.

Industries send 1,4-dioxane-contaminated waste to Greensboro’s wastewater treatment plant which has been discharging 1,4-dioxane into the Haw River since at least 2014. Both the state and Greensboro have the responsibility under the Clean Water Act to regulate harmful industrial waste and prevent 1,4-dioxane from polluting downstream drinking water supplies. To do so, wastewater treatment plants have the authority to require the polluter to control pollution at the source with treatment technology or to use alternative materials.

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 170, including 90 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. www.southernenvironment.org

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