Settlement Reached to Protect Cape Fear Basin Water Quality

A recent settlement agreement negotiated by Fayetteville PWC and other parties will impose lower limits on the City of Greensboro’s discharges of 1,4-dioxane from the T.Z. Osborne wastewater treatment plant, sharper penalties for non-compliance, and increased sampling/pollution control requirements in order to improve the water quality in the Cape Fear River Basin. The original order issued by the NC Environmental Management Commission was challenged by the Fayetteville PWC and the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Haw River Assembly, based upon their concern that the initial limits were not strict enough to protect downstream communities.

Fayetteville PWC became aware of elevated levels of 1,4-dioxane in the Cape Fear River Basin in 2014 as a result of nationwide monitoring conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the EPA, 1,4-dioxane is a likely carcinogen and is used by some companies as a solvent in select textile processes. The toxin has also been found in dyes, greases, paint strippers, anti-freeze, and varnishes. However, the EPA determined that the 1,4-dioxane problem was not a nationwide problem and took no further action.

Fayetteville PWC did not find this determination to be acceptable and thus began a long process to identify sources that were discharging 1-4, dioxane so action could be taken to stop the contamination at the source. By working collaboratively with N. C. State University and the State of North Carolina, the contamination was determined to be associated with industrial waste being discharged into upstream municipal wastewater treatment plants. The most economic, equitable, and logical solution to the problem of industrial discharges contaminating downstream drinking water is to control the contamination at the source so that downstream water treatment plants (including Fayetteville PWC) do not have to install expensive treatment facilities to remove the discharges from their drinking water.

In August 2019, a discharge of a high concentration of 1,4-dioxane from Greensboro’s T.Z. Osborne wastewater treatment plant was detected. In response, the NC Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) issued Greensboro a Notice of Violation and assessed a civil penalty for violation of water quality regulations. Greensboro and NCDEQ then negotiated a proposed Special Order by Consent, which Fayetteville PWC and the Southern Environmental Law Center challenged as being inadequate to achieve compliance in timely manner. While the parties were involved in their legal challenge to the SOC, Greensboro detected additional discharges of high concentrations of 1,4-dioxane from the T.Z. Osborne wastewater treatment plant on June 30, 2021 and November 3, 2021.

After intensive negotiations, the parties settled on a resolution that involves two primary components. First, the parties agreed to amend the SOC as follows:

  • The term of the SOC was extended from two years to three years
  • Stricter limits were imposed on Greensboro’s discharges of 1,4-dioxane from its T.Z. Osborne wastewater treatment plant
  • Greensboro was required to adopt and implement an improved sampling plan to identify all significant sources of 1,4-dioxane in its sewer system
  • Higher penalties will be imposed for exceedances of established discharge limits, with additional penalties for repeated exceedances and even higher penalties for excessively high discharges

Second, the NC Environmental Management Commission is directing NCDEQ to undertake a 3-year investigation to identify all sources of 1,4-dioxane in the Cape Fear River Basin with public reports on progress every six months and a formal written report annually. This action is expected to facilitate a more comprehensive reduction of future 1,4-dioxane discharges and improve drinking water quality throughout the Cape Fear Basin. On November 18, 2021, EMC adopted this settlement, and the amended SOC became effective on December 1, 2021.
Fayetteville PWC Chairwoman, Evelyn Shaw, said, “For several years PWC staff have worked tirelessly to resolve this matter, and we are proud to have reached an agreement over this issue. We appreciate Greensboro’s commitment to reducing the amount of 1,4-dioxane in the river, which will ultimately ensure PWC water customers, and water customers beyond our service area will have continued access to clean drinking water.”

Additional information about 1,4-dioxane is available here