Access to safe, acceptable and affordable water is recognized as a fundamental human right by the United Nations. But, in North Carolina, large corporations are beginning to threaten the safety of key river basins serving as a drinking water source for over 300,000 residents.
In early August, Shamrock Environmental, a waste management company based in Greensboro, mistakenly released a large amount of carcinogen into the Cape Fear River basin. This basin provides drinking water for Pittsboro, Fayetteville and numerous other cities downstream. Up until Oct. 15, Greensboro officials and environmental regulators did not publicly identify the corporation for the release of the federally unregulated chemical: 1,4 dioxane.
In addition, documents provided by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality have revealed that Shamrock was repeatedly cited over the last year for excessive amounts of several chemicals, including zinc, copper, cyanide and colbat, as well as pH violations. However, Greensboro still does not considered the company as being in “significant noncompliance" with regulations.
1,4 dioxane, generally found in paint strippers, varnishes and other household products, dissolves quickly in water and is widely known as a strong carcinogen. On Aug. 23, at one spot along the Haw River, the 1,4 dioxane level was measured at 107 parts per billion, more than 300 times higher than North Carolina’s lifetime health advisory for drinking water. Experts suggest that North Carolina currently has one of the highest levels of 1,4 dioxane in the country, increasing the risk of cancer exponentially for its residents.
Although the EPA is still in the process of fully evaluating the risk that the chemical poses to the environment, animals and humans, that shouldn’t stop officials from taking the necessary steps to preserve public health. According to the DEQ, Greensboro didn’t notify the state of the accident until Sept. 27, more than a month after the city became aware of the release. The downstream utilities were unable to screen 1,4 dioxane out of water using conventional filtering systems.