Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Burlington finds disconcertingly high levels of industrial solvent in recent wastewater sample; co. ordered to cease production

The city has instructed Apollo Chemical to cease production immediately

The city of Burlington has reported a sudden spike in one potentially hazardous chemical that it closely monitors in discharges from its sewer treatment facilities.

The city issued a formal notice on Wednesday about this precipitous surge in 1,4-dioxane, which appeared in a sample of wastewater effluent collected on Tuesday as part a daily testing regime that the city instituted last year.

`           According to the city’s notice, lab results obtained at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday revealed that this particular sample contained a dioxane level of 545 parts per billion. By contrast, a sample taken on Monday contained a level of 2.4 parts per billion – or more than 200 times less than Tuesday’s brow-furrowing measurement.

Although the city doesn’t explicitly identify the source of this contamination, it notes that a similar spike in dioxane was observed after a discharge from Apollo Chemical this past July. According to Wednesday’s notice, this incident prompted Burlington to enact its daily testing regime, which has reportedly cost the city $115,000 since its implementation. The city also acknowledges that it has put Apollo Chemical on notice over this week’s unusually high reading.

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“The city has instructed Apollo to immediately cease production,” Wednesday’s notice asserts, “and [city officials] will meet with the company tomorrow.”

The notice goes on to observe that the company’s previous discharge has prompted Burlington to seek state authorization to have Apollo Chemical pretreat its wastewater before it enters the city’s sewer system. According to the city, this pretreatment program could take effect on March 1, assuming that the state signs off on the requested permit.

A common industrial solvent, 1,4-dioxane is one of a galaxy of so-called emerging contaminants that have increasingly become a priority for state and federal regulators in light of their potentially carcinogenic effects. Dioxane and another category of chemicals called PFAS have also appeared on the radar in Burlington due to concerns that they may be entering the Haw River by way of the city’s two sewage treatment plants.

In recent years, these discharges from Burlington have set off alarm bells in Pittsboro and other communities that lie downriver of the city’s treatment facilities. These heightened anxieties even prompted a Pittsboro-based advocacy group called the Haw River Assembly to threaten the city with legal action over its suspected role in PFAS contamination. In response, Burlington’s leaders entered into a testing and information-sharing arrangement with the advocacy group that they’ve publicly hailed as a model of cooperation unrivaled anywhere else in the nation.

Although Burlington’s deal with the Haw River Assembly is concerned largely with PFAS, the city has reportedly informed the group about this week’s high dioxane reading. Word of the dioxane spike has also been passed along to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the towns of Pittsboro and Cary, the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, Cape Fear Public Utilities, and AQUA NC, a major water cust

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