Press Release | October 22, 2020

Haw River Assembly and City of Burlington Agree to PFAS and 1,4-dioxane Investigation

Sampling to investigate source of pollution in Haw River

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Haw River Assembly, finalized a memorandum of agreement with the City of Burlington in which the city agreed to investigate the sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals and 1,4-dioxane in the city’s wastewater discharges.

“This agreement and investigation takes us one step closer to making the Haw River cleaner and safer,” said Kelly Moser, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents Haw River Assembly. “With the city’s cooperation, we can identify the source of the PFAS and 1,4-dioxane pollution in Burlington’s treatment systems much more quickly than through litigation. Once the source is identified, the city can and should take steps to stop the pollution.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Burlington will investigate the sources of industrial pollution into its wastewater treatment systems that are causing the city to discharge PFAS chemicals and 1,4-dioxane into the Haw River. The city will conduct extensive sampling throughout its treatment systems over the next several months under the agreement.

“Haw River Assembly has been studying and working to stop PFAS pollution in the Haw River since 2015,” explained Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper. “Burlington's treatment plant is a main source of the PFAS in the river, and we are glad this important investigation is moving forward. We are committed to eliminating these toxic chemicals from the river to protect the communities who depend on it.”

Last year, the Southern Environmental Law Center notified the City of Burlington of Haw River Assembly’s intent to sue the city for its PFAS and 1,4-dioxane pollution. The City of Burlington has wastewater treatment plants that accept waste that contains PFAS from industrial facilities. Like most wastewater treatment plants, Burlington’s treatment plants do not remove the PFAS before discharging the waste into rivers and spreading contaminated sludge on fields. This threatens the drinking water for communities downstream who draw their drinking water from the Haw River, its tributaries, and Jordan Lake.

PFAS is a class of thousands of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX and is associated with serious health impacts. These contaminants are known as forever chemicals—they do not dissipate, dissolve, or degrade but stay in water, soil and our bodies.

Like PFAS, 1,4-dioxane is harmful to human health and does not readily degrade in the environment.


For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.


The Haw River Assembly is a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of the State of North Carolina that seeks to protect, restore, and preserve the Haw River, its tributaries, and Jordan Lake through education, advocacy, and pollution prevention. www.Haw

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

Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]