NC DEQ permit for Chemours allows avoidable GenX and other PFAS pollution in Cape Fear River
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Conservation groups called on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to impose stronger limits than proposed in a draft permit that would authorize Chemours’ discharge of toxic PFAS pollution into the Cape Fear River from its new groundwater treatment system. The groundwater treatment system is required under the consent order entered into by the Cape Fear River Watch, the Department of Environmental Quality, and Chemours. The Southern Environmental Law Center represented Cape Fear River Watch in negotiations that led to the consent order.
“DEQ’s draft permit unnecessarily allows Chemours to dump high levels of PFAS into the Cape Fear River,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which took Chemours and DEQ to court on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch to stop PFAS pollution. “Technology installed as required by the consent order has nearly eliminated Chemours’ PFAS pollution from some parts of its site—DEQ must use that information to protect communities from PFAS contamination in Chemours’ proposed discharge. DEQ’s draft permit doesn’t provide that protection.”
Sampling data from Chemours’ Old Outfall 002 treatment system, which started operation in October 2020 as required by the consent order, has shown that the facility consistently reduces levels of all monitored PFAS to below detection levels—less than 2 ppt for most PFAS. According to discharge monitoring reports submitted to DEQ since November 2020 the Old Outfall 002 system has never discharged more than 2.3 ppt of GenX, 26.5 ppt of PFMOAA, or 10 ppt of PMPA. No other PFAS have been detected in the facility’s discharge. Despite that success, DEQ proposes to allow Chemours’ nearly identical groundwater treatment system to discharge more than 120 ppt of GenX, 640 ppt of PFMOAA, and 130 ppt of PMPA. Total levels of monitored PFAS allowed by the draft permit could be more than 1,300 ppt.
“After all we have learned over the past five years, it is shocking that DEQ would draft a permit allowing Chemours to release any PFAS into the Cape Fear River, let alone at the levels allowable under this draft permit,” said Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch. “We need DEQ to do its job and protect us from Chemours’ historic and consistent disregard for human health and the environment.”
The terms of the consent order are that Chemours must stop the GenX and other PFAS pollution at its source—the Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Facility—provide clean drinking water to North Carolinians with contaminated wells, and ensure the Cape Fear River is safe for downstream communities. The river is the drinking water source for Wilmington, N.C., and New
Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties downstream. GenX and other PFAS have been found in their treated drinking water at high levels.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a revised toxicity level for GenX in the fall of 2021 and is expected to release a health advisory level in the spring of 2022. The new health advisory is likely to significantly reduce the existing North Carolina Health advisory of 140 ppt.
A timeline of the contamination discovery, litigation and consent order can be found here.
A graphic showing the pathways of PFAS contamination can be viewed here.