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Virginia groups urge DEQ to stop PFAS pollution at its source in Danville

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A Danville wastewater treatment plant is releasing high concentrations of forever chemicals into the Dan River, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality isn’t doing anything about it.

“It is critical that DEQ make sure the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant is addressing PFAS pollution coming from its industrial customers,” said Tiffany Haworth, executive director of Dan River Basin Association. “DRBA’s mission is to protect the Dan River, and it just makes sense both for public health and for economic development to stop the pollution before it enters our waterways.”

The DRBA, Wild Virginia and the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments today to the to the DEQ on the agency’s failure to address pollution from PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals,” coming from the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Sampling from the plant shows that it has released wastewater to the Dan River with high concentrations of PFAS. Several of the industrial facilities that send their wastewater to the plant are suspected PFAS polluters.

DEQ has been aware of this PFAS pollution since at least 2022, but to date, it has refused to take any steps, including those specifically recommended by the EPA, to monitor and control PFAS pollution as part of the plant’s water discharge permit.

Wastewater treatment plants can change the waste received from industrial customers by requiring that the industries implement pollution controls. In states like North Carolina and Michigan, state agencies and wastewater treatment plants are already implementing such requirements to stop PFAS pollution from entering waterways.

PFAS are a class of thousands of human-made chemicals that have been used in manufacturing since the 1940s. These chemicals are associated with serious health impacts, and they do not dissipate, dissolve, or degrade but stay in water, soil, and our bodies.

“The DEQ director must use his authority to hold a public hearing to give people the chance to weigh in on the threats to their waters from these dangerous chemicals,” said David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia. “DEQ had information showing PFAS are being dumped into the Dan River from this plant two years ago and it must now tell the wider public what it knows and require that the pollutants be controlled in the permit.”

For years, SELC has requested that DEQ use its authority under the Clean Water Act to stop PFAS pollution at its source through the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. DEQ, however, has so far declined to do so, including in the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant permit.

“DEQ needs to use the tools it already has to stop the flow of PFAS pollution into our rivers and streams,” said Carroll Courtenay, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Strong permits not only protect our health and environment, but also make sure that polluters, not downstream communities, are paying to clean up PFAS pollution.”

Given the serious health impacts of PFAS, the EPA recently finalized drinking water standards for six PFAS, and also designated two types of PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous substances.

Both PFOA and PFOS, along with other PFAS chemicals, appear in the Northside Wastewater Treatment Plant’s influent and effluent data, meaning the plant has released PFAS from its industrial customers into the Dan River.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].