Press Release | October 24, 2023

N.C. cities seek to contaminate drinking water for about 1M North Carolinians, SELC warns  

Two upstream cities challenge limits on toxic 1,4-dioxane pollution in Cape Fear River Basin; downstream cities fight to defend limits  

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A lawsuit by Asheboro, N.C., challenging limits on toxic 1,4-dioxane endangers the drinking water for about 1 million North Carolinians, the Southern Environmental Law Center warned. The lawsuit in state administrative court seeks to prevent North Carolina from protecting people from 1,4-dioxane, a cancer-causing chemical. Reidsville sought to join Asheboro in its lawsuit. The downstream city of Fayetteville, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority—which serves the downstream city of Wilmington and surrounding communities–and Brunswick County filed a motion to join the case to defend the state’s ability to keep 1,4-dioxane out of the drinking water for people in their communities.  

“We are alarmed that Reidsville and Asheboro are challenging limits on toxic 1,4-dioxane pollution—limits that exist to protect drinking water for North Carolina families,” said Jean Zhuang, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Instead of protecting folks downstream, Asheboro and Reidsville have chosen to protect their industrial polluters. By plowing forward with this lawsuit, these cities have shown that they would rather continue contaminating our rivers than follow the law, no matter who they harm along the way.” 

In 2015, Asheboro and Reidsville were identified as two of the leading sources of 1,4-dioxane contamination in North Carolina. Families in Sanford, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Brunswick County, and Pender County have been forced to drink water laden with 1,4-dioxane from these cities for years. Drinking water in Pittsboro, Holly Springs, and Fuquay-Varina will soon also be tainted by this 1,4-dioxane pollution because these towns have arranged to purchase drinking water from Sanford—water that has been tainted by Asheboro and Reidsville’s toxic 1,4-dioxane discharges. A map available here illustrates the scope of the potential impact of Asheboro’s pollution. 

The cities’ effort to dismantle North Carolina’s ability to prevent toxic 1,4-dioxane pollution could set a dangerous precedent that threatens people’s health and drinking water sources throughout the state with exposure to hundreds of toxic chemicals—including 1,4-dioxane and PFAS.   

Reidsville and Asheboro’s 1,4-dioxane pollution comes from industrial customers that pay the cities to send waste into the sewer systems. Because the cities’ wastewater plants do not remove the toxic chemical, they discharge the 1,4-dioxane received into the Haw and Deep Rivers, contaminating downstream drinking water supplies. The two cities have the obligation and authority under the Clean Water Act to control toxic waste from their industrial customers. Wastewater plants in Michigan are successfully requiring their industries to first treat their pollution before discharging into their sewer systems, removing toxic chemicals such as PFAS. 

On August 21, 2023, the department issued a water pollution permit to Asheboro that limits the amount of 1,4-dioxane the city can release from its wastewater treatment plant into the Deep River and puts the burden of stopping the 1,4-dioxane pollution on the industries that create it.  

1,4-Dioxane is a manmade chemical that is harmful to people and has been linked to cancers and liver and kidney damage at extremely low levels. 1,4-Dioxane is not removed by conventional water treatment. 

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]

Rachel Chu

Communications Manager (SC)

Phone: 843-720-5270
Email: [email protected]