Toxic chemicals found in groundwater near Durham’s future drinking water supply

A recent report commissioned by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) detected a variety of toxic chemicals within the groundwater near Teer Quarry, a storage site for Durham’s water supply. The chemicals, which include likely carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane, among others, are making their way towards the pit, according to the report.

It is still uncertain if these chemicals will reach the quarry. 

1,4-Dioxane was detected at levels up to 50 times above the state’s target value for water supplies in more than half of the 26 groundwater monitoring wells. The chemical can be found in industrial spills and plastics production, as well as laundry detergent, shampoos, cosmetics and many other household products.

Joe Lunne, spokesperson for the Durham’s Department of Water Management, told NC Policy Watch that 1,4-Dioxane has never been found in Teer Quarry water.

“Contaminated drinking water is a major concern, especially in this case where reports show that there are known carcinogens in the water,” environmental justice advocate Catherine Flowers wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “With Durham’s population expected to double in the next 25 years due to a combination of climate change and rapid growth in the city, we’re talking about an issue that would impact close to half a million residents.”

Teer Quarry is currently a water supply for Durham, but is restricted to emergency use. The Durham City Council approved the building of a low dam and a new water pump on the Eno River to pump water directly into the quarry in April 2020.

The city has also recently proposed the reclassification of Teer Quarry in order to utilize the waters as a public water supply. City officials have been considering Teer Quarry as future water storage for 15 years, hoping to pump water from Lake Michie and a part of the Eno River.

Duke obtains all of its drinking water from the City of Durham, according to the Duke Office of Sustainability. Using more than 400 million gallons of water each year, the University and Duke Hospital are the city’s largest consumers of water.

“Durham’s use of that water source is not imminent. Duke will continue to be in close contact with the City of Durham as utility plans evolve,” wrote Chris Simmons, interim vice president of public affairs and government relations, in an email. 

Teer Quarry can store about 1.5 billion gallons of water. Water was previously pumped from the quarry during the drought of 2007. According to the city, Durham used an average of over 27 million gallons of water per day during Nov. 2022.

“Without local or state governments ensuring equitable access to clean water, then low-income communities will continue to be subjected to systemic inequalities. However, contaminated water will negatively impact all of Durham,” Flowers wrote.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently added 1,4-Dioxane to its “Contaminant Candidate List,” signaling that it could be regulated in the next few years under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The chemical is known as a “forever chemical” and cannot be removed by traditional water treatment methods.

Duke “has the capability to provide assistance, whether that be through supporting efforts to research, policy change, or legal advocacy as well as quantifying levels of contaminants in the quarry,” Flowers wrote. “Everyone deserves access to clean, potable water.”

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Jazper Lu | Managing Editor

Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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