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Pittsboro to pursue lawsuits over harmful chemicals released into the Haw River

A bird's eye view of the 15-501 bridge over the Haw River in Pittsboro, NC.
Gene Gallin
A bird's eye view of the 15-501 bridge over the Haw River in Pittsboro, NC.

Pittsboro is planning to sue companies and others responsible for releasing harmful chemicals into the Haw River — the town's source for drinking water.

On Monday, the town's board of commissioners approved contracts with a San Francisco-based law firm, Sher Edling LLP, that will try to win compensation.

"These won't be quick efforts. They will likely take years to fully pursue. And obviously there's many opportunities for the this to result in frankly nothing," Pittsboro town manager Chris Kennedy said.

Kennedy added during Monday's meeting that the board "felt comfort in working with" Sher Edling LLP, which has worked on several cases regarding climate change and the quality of drinking water.

Kennedy says the town has already spent more than $3 million to treat drinking water contaminated by PFAS and other chemicals. PFAS has been linked to different health issues, like cancer.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently released a plan to stop the release of these chemicals into the state's rivers and streams.

Cooper and his environmental chief unveiled a three-pronged strategy last week to address further efforts to reduce and remedy a broad category of chemicals in water sources.

Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Elizabeth Biser, who also chronicled state government's efforts so far to address PFAS, said there remains more to do to protect human health and the environment.

The DEQ's action plan focuses on identifying people across the state who may face a health risk from PFAS; proposals for setting groundwater, surface water and drinking water standards to avoid unnecessary human exposure; and setting remediation goals for contaminated sites that leads to “health-protective outcomes.”

Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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