Press Release | March 6, 2023

Draft Sanford, N.C. permit allows pollution of drinking water source for 50,000 people with toxic PFAS and 1,4 dioxane, SELC warns

Warning comes ahead of N.C. DEQ’s March 7 public hearing and March 8 public comment deadline

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Ahead of a March 7 public hearing and March 8 public comment deadline, the Southern Environmental Law Center warned that a state draft permit for a Sanford wastewater treatment plant allows discharge contaminated with PFAS—also known as forever chemicals—and toxic 1,4 dioxane upstream of the city’s own drinking water intake for 50,000 people. Conventional treatment does not remove these harmful pollutants from treated drinking water and Sanford plans to expand its drinking water services to more North Carolina communities, as SELC pointed out in comments it submitted to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

“The Department of Environmental Quality knows how to clean up the toxic pollution from Sanford’s wastewater treatment plant,” says Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The agency cannot continue to look the other way as Sanford dumps forever chemicals and other harmful pollution into its own drinking water source, which it also plans to use to supply other North Carolina communities with drinking water.”

Sanford announced it plans to expand its drinking water services to provide drinking water to the cities of Pittsboro, Fuquay-Varina, and Holly Springs, which would then provide drinking water to more than 135,000 North Carolinians. A SELC map shows the drinking water and communities threatened by the City of Sanford’s wastewater discharges.

“We know that the Cape Fear River has too much toxic PFAS and 1,4-dioxane contamination,” says Gisler. “It’s clear that the best way to confront this pollution is stopping it at its source—as we did with Chemours in Fayetteville and as EPA directed states to do–yet the state has refused to do so in this permit.”

The DEQ’s draft permit violates guidance EPA issued to states in December 2022 that made clear the state agency has the authority and responsibility under existing law to prevent this pollution. SELC’s work to stop Chemours’ PFAS pollution of the Cape Fear River demonstrated how existing law can stop such pollution at its source before it reaches drinking water sources. In its comments, the center urged North Carolina to use its authority under existing law to stop Sanford’s pollution.

The discharges in question are contaminated with toxic 1,4-dioxane and PFAS from the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Sanford discharges the contaminated wastewater into the Deep River approximately 17 miles upstream of the city’s own drinking water intake, which provides the drinking water for more than 50,000 people in Sanford, Goldston, Lee County, and parts of Chatham County.

SELC submitted comments to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on behalf of Haw River Assembly and Cape Fear River Watch.

DEQ is inviting public comments at a town hall at 6pm on March 7 at the Earnest and Ruby McSwain Extension Education and Agricultural Center in Sanford, N.C., as well as comments emailed to [email protected] with BIG BUFFALO in the subject line by March 8, 2023. More details regarding DEQ’s town hall meeting and how people can submit comments is posted on DEQ’s website.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.