Officials refuse to name company that discharged 1,4 Dioxane

Greensboro has some questions that need answering:

State regulators and Greensboro officials refuse to identify an industry they say accidentally released a large amount of a likely carcinogen into the Cape Fear River basin, temporarily fouling drinking water for Pittsboro, Fayetteville and perhaps other cities downstream. Greensboro officials and the state Department of Environmental Quality also won’t say how the release of 1,4 dioxane happened and how much of the chemical was discharged.

Both entities called the release “a mistake,” one that caused the level of 1,4 dioxane in Pittsboro’s drinking water to temporarily spike in August to more than 300 times the lifetime cancer risk level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Mistake" or not, withholding the name of the company is simply not acceptable. It shields them from exposure to the media, which in many cases do a better job at holding polluters accountable than regulatory agencies do. It also raises many questions about potential conflicts of interest, from campaign donations to government incentives, and many of those questions would simply disappear with a little sunlight shining on the scene. And this timeline is nothing short of infuriating:

Young said Greensboro told the DEQ about the release in late September and never revealed the industry that was responsible. She did not directly answer questions about whether DEQ knows the company’s name and whether it would release that information.

“The Division of Water Resources oversees Greensboro’s pretreatment program,” Young said in an email. “We continue to work with Greensboro to understand the cause, conditions and remedies implemented by their industry’s discharge.”

The release happened on or before Aug 7. That’s the date Greensboro officials took a water sample that was later found to contain 1,4 dioxane at a concentration of 957 parts per billion. That level was 2,700 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s cancer risk assessment of 0.35 parts per billion in raw surface water.

If this recent contamination had popped up out of nowhere, or if that water sampling had been a low priority for the lab to deal with, that delay would still be irritating. But this exact issue has been a top priority "mystery" that needed solving for years, so there are no excuses. This article is from 3 1/2 years ago:

Steve Drew, water resources director for the City of Greensboro, said the chemical was found in the city's wastewater only and not its drinking water. The same is true for Asheboro and Reidsville.

Drew said the chemical was found because Fayetteville officials noticed it in their drinking water, and asked upstream cities to test their water to help locate the source of it.

"In our drinking water reservoirs, the risk of having 1, 4 dioxane is simply at zero," Drew said. "Because our drinking water reservoirs are at the highest point upstream of the Cape Fear River Basin. There are no wastewater treatment plants upstream of our intakes."

I'm sure it's nice to be able to reassure your citizens their drinking water is fine, but that's only half the story. The other half went down to Pittsboro, and that's not nice at all.