1,4-dioxane in Greensboro

South Buffalo Creek receives wastewater from Greensboro’s TZ Osborne treatment plant. The creek flows into the Haw River, a drinking water supply for the Town of Pittsboro. In turn, the Haw empties into Jordan Lake, which feeds the Cape Fear River. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

HRA’s Successful Legal Action Over Greensboro’s 1,4-Dioxane

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

On behalf of the Haw River Assembly, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) reached a settlement on December 18 with the City of Greensboro and North Carolina regulators that further limits Greensboro’s 1,4-dioxane discharges from it’s wastewater treatment plant, where industries are sending this chemical in their waste stream. HRA was joined by City of Fayetteville in this challenge, who draws their raw drinking water further downstream on the Cape Fear River. The settlement also 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, and report actions it takes to reduce those amounts, including permit limits.

“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,” says 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.”

Read the full SELC press release here. Here are links to the Final Settlement and the state’s Amended Special Order by Consent for Greensboro 1,4-Dioxane releases


Greensboro Discharge of 1,4-Dioxane into the Haw River

On June 30, 2021, Greensboro notified the state DEQ and downstream that it had found high levels of 1,4-dioxane in treated wastewater from its TZ Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant. The discharge was into South Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Haw, at levels 20 times higher than EPA’s health guideline. The Town of Pittsboro was notified, and took immediate action to temporarily shut down their source water intake on the Haw River. Once they opened the intake again they began hourly testing, that we understand is being paid for by Greensboro.

The Town is providing frequent updates on the monitoring info, on the front page of their website. which shows levels of the chemical have dropped substantially. They have held the first of their special Town meetings to provide information on the ongoing water quality issues. It can be viewed on here on YouTube. It is important to note that the state standard for 1,4-dioxane discharged into surface waters that are drinking water supplies is much lower, at .35ug/l. Recently sampled levels in the Haw have been higher than that.

HRA Challenges Agreement Allowing 1,4 Dioxane Pollution in Downstream Drinking Water
North Carolina Agreement with Greensboro Violates Laws

A legal challenge of the state’s agreement with Greensboro over this toxic pollutant was filed in April 2021, in the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Haw River Assembly

The agreement by state regulators with the City of Greensboro allows increased discharges of cancer-causing 1,4-dioxane  from factories that discharge waste water into the city’s sewage treatment plant. That wastewater goes into the Haw River and then the Cape Fear – the drinking water source for nearly one million people – in violation of the Clean Water Act and state water quality laws.

“The state’s agreement gives Greensboro a free pass, putting the interests of the city’s industrial polluters ahead of communities downstream,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The department refused to apply the correct standard, rejected the concerns of Pittsboro and Fayetteville, and allowed more pollution, not less.

Read the Full SELC Press Release

Read the legal complaint HERE

The NC Department of Environmental Quality will hold a remote public hearing on December 9th, 2020 about a Special Order of Consent to correct the City of Greensboro’s illegal discharges of 1,4-Dioxane into the downstream drinking water supply. Written comments can be submitted until Dec. 14 to DEQ at publiccomments@ncdenr.gov 

Because of the level of public interest, the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9, on a proposed Special Order by Consent (SOC) for the City of Greensboro’s T.Z. Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge permit.

Go to this link to sign up (deadline is by 12 noon on Dec. 9) to speak: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=3IF2etC5mkSFw-zCbNftGRcM2xmuszROiks3JDQp2_RUOE83MDlQTDA5VUxHUFNDOTQzR0tDMElYUC4u Public Hearing Date and Location: Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 6:00 PM via Webex. Participants can join the meeting starting at 5:45 PM.

The proposed order addresses issues related to the discharge of elevated levels of 1,4-dioxane from the wastewater treatment plan to South Buffalo Creek in the Cape Fear River Basin. 1,4-dioxane is an emerging compound that EPA has identified as a likely human carcinogen. Link to article.

Read FAQs about this issue and the Haw Riverkeeper’s talking points.

Last year, NCDEQ 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 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 in the summer and fall of 2019. 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.