What is the issue?

PFAS  chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds) get into our water from direct discharges from industrial facilities.  PFAS is a class of thousands of synthetic chemicals used for coatings, fire suppression, water proofing and more 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.

Many industrial facilities in the Haw River basin send their industrial waste to a municipal wastewater treatment plant. Pretreatment is required for these situations, but it only removes heavy metals and very few regulated toxins. These PFAS compounds can not be removed in traditional wastewater or drinking water treatment, so much of these chemicals are entering surface waters through wastewater treatment plants. Additionally, the sludge that is land applied near streams is often sourced from these same wastewater treatment plants. This pathway carries it into streams in rain or during application, and could potentially be contaminating shallow wells.

After a lawsuit in West Virginia, a panel of scientists researched the health impacts of a few specific PFAS compounds and determined that they lead to many significant health issues, like diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and low-birth weight in infants.

Studies have also shown high levels of another industrial chemical, 1,4-dioxane in the Haw River and in drinking water sources. This is a common industrial solvent, and like PFAS may be entering municipal wastewater treatment plants from a large number of factories and facilities, particularly in Burlington, Greensboro and Reidsville.  The Haw River Assembly has long been concerned about the presence of these chemicals in Pittsboro’s drinking water, the only town that uses the Haw River as it’s raw source.

What are we doing?

It’s time for Pittsboro to take action to protect its drinking water customers- NOW.

On July 6, 2020, we sent this letter to Pittsboro’s elected officials. Help us urge Pittsboro to take leadership and protect community members in Pittsboro from harmful toxins in their drinking water supply.

Pittsboro Mayor and Commissioners have known about harmful toxins in the town water supply for over three years now. At Haw River Assembly, we have been working with academic researchers and a team at Southern Environmental Law Center to investigate and remove the toxins from discharges upstream, but the town has yet to fully address the issue in their own drinking water. The elected officials and staff have chosen to wait on state or federal action while the people of Pittsboro are left with no options for safe drinking water. State agency staff and academic researchers have deemed Pittsboro’s water supply “undrinkable.” Though staff are currently working on a pilot project to test treatment methods, the system will not be operational for another two years at least. Pittsboro elected officials must take leadership and address this water crisis head on. We have laid out several paths for this leadership, and urge Pittsboro leadership to act immediately to protect the people of Pittsboro.
Please see our letter to Pittsboro leaders, share, and send in your own letters to Mayor Nass and the Board of Commissioners.

James W. Nass

Pamela Baldwin (Mayor Pro Tem)

Michael A. Fiocco

J. A. (Jay) Farrell

Kyle Shipp

John Bonitz

HRA takes legal action to stop industrial contaminants from Burlington

In November 2019, Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Notice of Intent to City of Burlington regarding their PFAS and 1,4 Dioxane discharges from several locations, including their wastewater treatment plant and land applied sludge fields. This is a violation of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. See the full press release here.

Additionally, we are partnering with Duke University and NC State to do public health forums and studies in Pittsboro. Dr. Heather Stapleton has been collecting samples from Pittsboro drinking water users to test PFAS levels in their home drinking water taps and in their blood.

We are continuing to review NCDEQ’s sampling data and work with academic labs to collect and process samples to pinpoint other sources.

NCDEQ also issued Notices of Violation against Greensboro and Reidsville regarding 1,4 Dioxane discharges from their wastewater treatment plant.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has issued notices of violation for the municipalities of Reidsville and Greensboro for their releases of the toxic compound 1,4-Dioxane into the Haw River basin earlier this summer and fall. 1,4-dioxane is used for a wide variety of industrial and manufacturing purposes. It causes liver and kidney damage and likely causes cancer.  The spike of 1,4-dioxane on the Haw River was present downstream in Pittsboro’s drinking water supply. Read the full press release from HRA  HERE.

What can you do?

  • Share PFAS articles and information on social media to educate your friends
  • Write Letters to the Editor to make sure this issue is getting the attention it needs in order to be addressed. 
  • Contact your elected officials and let them know you expect them to address the PFAS contamination issues in NC, including setting limits on PFAS discharges as a class of compounds.

Talking Points

  • Pollution should be stopped at its source.
  • Downstream communities should not have to pay the price and suffer the health consequences of avoidable pollution caused by upstream sources like wastewater treatment plants and industrial companies.
  • Wastewater treatment plants and companies that discharge PFAS or 1,4-dioxane must be required to warn downstream communities when they have discharged toxins into drinking water sources.
  • Regulators must hold wastewater treatment plants like Burlington responsible for sending toxins into our drinking water.
  • Polluters must be required to disclose what is in their waste, and install technology to clean up their pollution.
  • Our state regulators should be requiring dischargers to disclose what is in their waste, as mandated by the Clean Water Act, and controlling chemicals that are known to harm public health—like PFAS and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Industrial facilities should be removing toxic chemicals like PFAS and 1,4-dioxane from their waste before they send it to wastewater treatment plants that are not equipped to treat these chemicals.
  • Wastewater treatment plants cannot spray toxic sludge on fields that are next to rivers, streams, and drinking water. It has long been known that chemicals like PFAS run-off the fields into nearby waters.
  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS, are a class of chemicals that can cause serious illnesses.
  • 1,4-dioxane is used for a wide variety of industrial and manufacturing purposes. It causes liver and kidney damage, and likely causes cancer.

State regulators must hold wastewater treatment plants responsible for sending toxins into our drinking water – as mandated by the U.S. Clean Water Act

  •         Wastewater treatment plants and companies that discharge chemicals, such as PFAS or 1,4-dioxane, into surface waters used for drinking water must be required to warn downstream users about this threat to public health.
  •         Industries must be required to disclose what is in their waste, and install technology to remove toxic chemicals like PFAS and 1,4-dioxane, before they send it to municipal wastewater treatment plants that are not equipped to treat these chemicals.

·         The sludge from wastewater treatment plants containing chemicals like PFAS should not be spread on fields, where it can run off into nearby streams during storms.  These chemicals have been found in high quantities in streams adjacent to fields where Burlington sludge has been sprayed.

Additional Resources

General Information about PFAS – PFAS Cover packet (1)

What are the Hardison Amendments? Do they impact what the state can or cannot do? Link

What is the actual data coming from surface water samples in Pittsboro? PFASdata (1)

What can DEQ do right now, without legislation? One-Pager_DEQ Asks (1)

What can our elected officials do? Legislator Talking Points – PFAS in Pittsboro_HMS (1) (1)

Still have more questions or resource needs? Send an email to Haw Riverkeeper, Emily Sutton, at emily@hawriver.org.

Recent News Articles

Representative Pricey Harrison has introduced three new PFAS bills into the 2020 legislative session for the House of Representatives.
House Bill 1108- PFAS Contamination Mitigation Measures
House Bill 1109- PFAS Manufacture/Use/Sale Ban
House Bill 1110- PFAS Studies
These bills would call for the elimination of use in North Carolina, disclosure requirements from discharges, and enforcement from Department of Environmental Quality, among many others.
Please review the bills, sponsors and co-sponsors, and contact your state representative to ask for their support of these bills!

Read more about House Bill 1108 here (download)

A new bill from Senate Democrats would roll out $20 billion in funding to remove cancer-linked “forever chemicals” from water as it contaminates supplies across the country.

The legislation, rolled out by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) office Thursday, targets a class of chemicals known as PFAS used in everyday products, ranging from nonstick cookware to raincoats. They’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the human body and the environment.


“It’s a horrible story” — Officials, advocates decry the hazards of PFAS at N.C. summit

Support PFAS Legislation at Federal Level!

Call Burr and Tillis today to encourage PFAS regulation *as a class* in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

Please help us call Sen. Burr & Sen. Tillis’s offices. Your phone calls do work. They get recorded every day. A tally is taken and shared with both senators. This is how we let them know these PFAS amendments are vital to protecting our communities. We need them to know that the Haw River is one of the most impacted rivers in North Carolina for contamination by this class of industrial chemicals.

We need both senators to use their influence and persuade Sen. McConnell and Sen. Barrasso to add PFAS  *as a class* to the Clean Water Act, CERCLA, and the Toxic Release Inventory as part of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)–otherwise known as the annual federal defense spending bill.  Congress has the power to take a good first step in addressing the nation’s growing PFAS public health crisis. This week is critical as Sen. McConnell and Sen. Barrasso will decide if these PFAS provisions are included in the annual defense spending bill.

Why is this important:

  1. Adding PFAS, as a class, to the Clean Water Act empowers the EPA to set discharge limits on PFAS into surface waters–like the Cape Fear and Haw rivers–which over 1.5 million residents rely on as their primary source for drinking water. This allows states, like NC, to regulate the presence of PFAS through discharge permits. Without this addition, states are left guessing where PFAS is being used and released.
  2. Adding PFAS, as a class, to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) empowers the EPA to unlock Superfund law. This will allow states, like NC, to force the polluter to pay. Companies, like Chemours, should pay for the mess they made. This addition would allow that to happen. Without it we are left paying for someone else’s mess.
  3. Adding PFAS, as a class, to the Toxic Release Inventory will allow states, like NC, to monitor where PFAS are being used and released within the state. Currently, NC’s DEQ is having to guess where PFAS chemicals are used.

Call script:

“Hi! My name is [your name],

My zip code is [your zip code]. I’m calling to encourage Senator [Burr/Tillis] use their influence and persuade Sen. McConnell and Sen. Barrasso to add PFAS *as a class* to the Clean Water Act, CERCLA, and the Toxic Release Inventory as part of the fiscal year 2020 NDAA. This issue is very important to me.

I live in the Haw River watershed in central North Carolina that has some of the worst contamination in our river from industrial contaminants in the PFAS family of chemicals. These chemicals are contaminating drinking water in Pittsboro as well as cities downstream on the Cape Fear River including Fayetteville and Wilmington.  We need you to help regulate these chemicals and keep them out of our rivers and drinking waters.

Thank you for your time!”

Sen. Burr: 202.224.3154

Sen. Tillis: 202.224.6342

Please call every day and get at least 5 friends or family members to call with you. This issue is too important to our health and our future health.

If you’d rather send an email, check out this Action Network link- https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-bill-to-regulate-pfas-at-federal-level/

Big Crowd turns out to HRA Drinking Water Forum in Pittsboro on Oct. 16


Over 200 people attended a public forum to address the issue of contaminated drinking water on Oct 16th in the town of Pittsboro.

Download the slides from the forum here: Powerpoint Slides

Dr. Heather Stapleton distributed a fact sheet on drinking water treatment systems: Drinking Water Treatment

If you are interested in participating in the Duke blood study, download this file for information: Duke Study flyer

Additionally, the Town of Pittsboro has been working with consultants to pilot a study for treatment of drinking water. See the resources below:
Memo from Gruesbeck on water treatment study

Contact information for panelists:

Dr. Heather Stapleton- heather.stapleton@duke.edu 

Heather Stapleton is an Associate Professor of Environmental Health at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.  She currently serves as co-Director of the Duke Center for Environmental Exposomics and the Deputy Director of the Duke Superfund Research Center.

Dr. Detlef Knappe- knappe@ncsu.edu 

Detlef Knappe is the S. James Ellen Distinguished Professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at NC State University. He received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and he joined the NC State faculty in 1996.
Dr. Knappe is interested in drinking water quality and treatment, water reuse, organic micropollutants, development of water treatment processes for polar and persistent organic pollutants, and the fate of organic pollutants in solid waste landfills. He is a Trustee of the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA’s) Water Science and Research Division, and he is a member of the North Carolina Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board. He serves as Associate Editor for AWWA Water Science and is a Topical Editor for the Open Access Journal Drinking Water Engineering and Science. He also serves on the AWWA’s Organic Contaminants Research Committee and the Standards Committee for Activated Carbon.

Dr. Jackie Bangma- jbangma@email.unc.edu

Jackie attended University of Georgia where she received her B.S. in Chemistry. With an interest in applied chemistry, she went on to completed her PhD at the Medical University of South Carolina in Marine Biomedicine and Environmental Science. Her dissertation research focused on PFAS in wildlife including the American alligator and striped mullet. In her current position as a postdoc, Jackie investigates environmental exposures to PFAS in the human placenta and their impact on health. Jackie currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is apart of the NC PFAS Testing Network.

Dr. Zack Moore – zack.moore@dhhs.nc.gov 

Dr. Moore is the State Epidemiologist and chief of the Epidemiology Section in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In this role, he works with staff to address existing and emerging health threats in the areas of communicable diseases, occupational and environmental health, and public health preparedness.

Julie Grzyb- julie.grzyb@ncdenr.gov 

Julie Grzyb (pronounced Gribb) works for NC DEQ’s, Division of Water Resources, as the Supervisor of the NPDES Complex Permitting Unit. She joined DWR ten years ago and her primary duties include overseeing the development and issuance of NPDES wastewater permits to major industrial and municipal facilities in NC.  Julie held group leader positions in the NPDES Permitting departments at the Ohio EPA and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Currently, Julie is working on a Management Strategy to address emerging contaminants discharged from major industrial and municipal facilities


See our most recent research and presentation here below:

CHHEPoster.HRA (2) (2)

New York Moves to Regulate Industrial Contaminants

Thanks to partnerships with a team of scientists at NC State and EPA Laboratories, Haw River Assembly continues to voice concerns about industrial contaminants in our watershed, and investigate potential pathways of contamination. 

How Safe is your Drinking Water?

We have a new handout on our concerns about the levels of PFAS and 1.4-dioxane in the Haw River. Pittsboro is the only municipality in our watershed that uses the Haw River as it’s source for drinking water. Contamination from industrial chemicals in the upper part of the Haw River watershed are exceeding EPA health guidance standards.

Lack of Regulations for Emerging Contaminants: Gen X, 1,4- Dioxane, and Chromium 6

The EPA has set clear limitations on 90 drinking water contaminants, but there are hundreds of “emerging contaminants” which have only recommended advisories, and are not enforceable. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to identify and monitor drinking water contaminants. However, the EPA isn’t regulating these contaminants fast enough, leaving the safety of our drinking water at risk.

Link to the full article from NC Policy Watch here.

Chemours releases toxic Gen X into Cape Fear River

Gen X is a new generation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) used in many industrial applications. GenX and an earlier version of the chemical, PFOA, have likely been discharged into the Cape Fear River since the 1980s without Wilmington’s knowledge. Both GenX and PFOA have been shown in lab studies to cause tumors and reproductive problems. This contamination of public drinking water sources has illustrated how our current regulatory framework leads to potentially hazardous levels of these chemicals in our public drinking water…(read more) 

1,4- Dioxane in the Haw

The Haw River Assembly continues to be concerned about the presence of 1,4-Dioxane in Greensboro, Reidsville, Asheboro, and Pittsboro’s drinking water.  1,4-Dioxane is an industrial solvent that has been entering the Haw River via upriver municipal wastewater treatment plants for many years. Monitoring by scientists has shown it to be in high levels in the Haw River. Traditional treatment methods for drinking water do not remove this contaminant.  There has recently been some progress in the reduction of the contamination in the river, and in a decision by the Town of  Pittsboro to upgrade its treatment methods… (read more)

“Sludge in Our Waters,”

Pathways of Contamination: Municipal and Industrial Sludge Application

A report co-authored by the Haw and Catawba Riverkeepers in Oct. 2015, “Sludge in Our Waters,” revealed that industrial chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies through stormwater runoff from land application of municipal wastewater sludge. Most industrial wastewater is treated in municipal wastewater treatment plants, and regulations do not require monitoring for these chemicals. During EPA’s study period for the advisory, large municipal water supplies in the Haw River watershed, including OWASA (serving Chapel Hill and Carrboro) and Greensboro were required to monitor for PFOS and PFOA. Both of these found PFASs in their source and/or finished drinking water, despite their water supply sources being much more protected than the Haw River. Another contaminant, the industrial solvent, 1.4-dioxane, was found in the Haw River. Similar to many PFASs, 1,4-dioxane is very difficult to remove in the drinking water treatment process… (read more)