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What's In The Water - 1,4-Dioxane

1,4- Dioxane is in the Cape Fear River and in the drinking water supply. It’s also classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” by all routes of exposure. As part of our continuing coverage of local water contamination, WHQR takes a look at 1,4-Dioxane in this edition of What’s in the Water? 

According to the EPA, most 1,4-dioxane contamination of drinking water comes from leaking underground storage tanks, hazardous waste sites, and discharges from manufacturing plants. In the case of the Cape Fear River, it’s most likely the latter – manufacturing.

That’s what David Andrews believes. He’s a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group in Washington DC. The EWG reports that the Cape Fear River basin is one of the most contaminated areas in the nation for the likely carcinogen.

“And it turned out that the 1,4-dioxane was coming from sewage discharge, from some manufacturing facilities in most cases so these were places that were producing different types of plastics, and in one case they were making some chemical dyes. So they washed into the sewer drains and went through the water treatment plans and then contaminate water sources downstream from that.”

It’s not good for you. And according to the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, removal via conventional water and wastewater treatment processes are generally ineffective.

David Andrews.

“1,4-dioxane is a small, cyclic ether that means it’s a small ring compound that has carbon and oxygen. It’s colorless, and at the concentrations typically found in contaminated drinking water it would be completely odorless. It’s typically an industrial solvent used in plastics manufacturing and it can also be a byproduct of manufacturing cosmetics and soaps typically.”

However here in the Cape Fear region, there are some signs of encouragement. According to Frank Styers, Chief Operations Officer of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, water filtration efforts are paying off… to the tune of removing two-thirds of the 1,4-dioxane that enters the water treatment plant.

“We’re very fortunate here, this community has invested very heavily in the advanced treatment processes like ozone, ultra-violet disinfection. And we have a state of the art plant and we do attribute our effectiveness in removing the 1,4-dioxane to our ozone treatment process.”

In the case of 1,4-dioxane, all fingers do not point to the Chemours facility. Cape Fear River Keeper Kemp Burdette.

“One thing we know is we’re not just dealing with a discharge from Chemours. We are dealing with other discharges from industry upstream, we’re dealing with discharges from coal ash ponds, we’re dealing with discharges from waste water treatment plants that don’t effectively treat industrial waste. So it’s not just perfluorinated compounds; it’s all types of compounds. And so these compounds interact with each other, they interact with the environment. Perfluorinated compounds in particular are extremely durable.”

EWG’s David Andrews.

“It is encouraging to see that the state of North Carolina as well as the water resources division have been relatively active in identifying the sources of these contaminants, especially for 1,4-dioxane, and working to stop or at least greatly reduce the ongoing contamination from some of these industrial sources and I think that’s an important first step.”