Friday, April 19, 2024

Chemours required wall complete, state silent on consequences for being late

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A chemical company upstream from Wilmington has completed a state-required treatment system and wall to mitigate pollution going into the Cape Fear River — though later than required.

READ MORE: Chemours barrier wall still not built more than 2 months after original target

Chemours announced it completed its barrier wall and groundwater capture project June 11, after missing two state-issued deadlines: March 15, then extended to May 31. 

It’s unclear if the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality will issue any fines or repercussions to Chemours, as the entity refused to answer the question posed by Port City Daily.

Per a 2019 consent order with Chemours, NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, the Fayetteville Works company, was required to complete the project that extracts groundwater and treats it for PFAS contamination prior to releasing it into the river.

Originally, the legal document ordered the company to have the system installed by mid March but allowed a two-month extension per Chemours’ request.

In a letter sent March 1 by plant manager Dawn Hughes, mechanical breakdowns and staffing shortages led to the delay, as well as extra time needed to obtain necessary permits for construction.

Chemours’ spokesperson Sarah Saxon told PCD earlier this month the company and NCDEQ “recognized various factors could impact and lengthen the projected completion date.”

NCDEQ issued a new deadline of May 31. Chemours was 11 days late.

“The system is actively extracting and treating groundwater as well as capturing seep water and stormwater,” a Chemours spokesperson wrote in an email to Port City Daily. “Based on initial monitoring, the treatment system is operating well and meeting current and future discharge limits.”

The extraction wells and treatment system have been operational since February.

The 1-mile-long barrier wall, extending 60- to 80-feet deep is supposed to block groundwater from escaping into the waterway. From there, 70 extraction wells capture the water, averaging 2.4 million gallons per day, then treat it through granular activated carbon filters.

Per NCDEQ’s approved permit for the discharge, the system is required to capture 99.9% of PFAS from entering the Cape Fear River.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s granular activated carbon filtration system went into effect in October to thwart the contamination. As of May 31, testing results showed 39.93 parts per trillion of combined PFAS compounds. Sixty-two of 69 tested compounds showed non-detect levels in treated drinking water from the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

“At this point it is too early for us to say what impact Chemours’ barrier wall and groundwater system may have our water treatment processes,” CFPUA spokesperson Cammie Bellamy said. “CFPUA is regularly monitoring PFAS levels in the Cape Fear River and adjusts our processes as needed, including how often we change out granular activated carbon media in the new filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. Any measure that reduces the total amount of PFAS in raw water from the river would be beneficial.”

Looking ahead, a Chemours spokesperson said its team will focus on “operation, maintenance and monitoring of the system,” while completing the necessary reporting.

NCDEQ spokesperson Sharon Martin said the agency is “reviewing next steps.”

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