Friday, April 19, 2024

EPA authorizes 4M pounds of GenX to be imported to NC from overseas

Chemours’ Netherlands facility under investigation

Chemours received authorization from the EPA last month to import more than 4 million pounds of GenX from overseas to its Fayetteville Works facility through next September. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A chemical company under criminal investigation in the Netherlands received authorization to import millions of pounds of GenX to Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility over the next year.

READ MORE: Local advocates head to D.C., urge leaders to not ‘water down’ PFAS legislation

Located roughly 70 miles upstream from Wilmington, Chemours was given the greenlight from the Environmental Protection Agency to ship GenX from its Dordrecht, Netherlands, facility. The product, to be recycled, will be imported in as many as 100 shipments through the Port of Wilmington to Fayetteville Works in Bladen County.

The EPA sent a letter to Chemours authorizing the transport Sept. 8. The company has approval to bring in more than 4 million pounds of GenX through Sept. 7, 2024. Beyond that time frame, EPA will have to review a separate request.

“We anticipate that actual volumes of compound received for recycling will be far lower, closer to amounts received historically,” a Chemours spokesperson told Port City Daily, though declined to answer how much the company typically imports.

According to a Dutch report on Chemours’ waste and the chain of GenX (investigated by NC Newsline, which broke the news Oct. 18), Chemours’ Netherlands company sent annually between 10 to 22 tons of PFAS to Fayetteville Works between 2014 and 2018; imports then spiked to 116 tons when recycling the chemical was no longer possible at the Miteni, Italy, facility after its bankruptcy. 

EPA halted the exports in December 2018 requiring “additional information” from Chemours.

A spokesperson for the federal agency, Jeff Landis, said the 2018 objection was “that the current notice [was] based on an inappropriate use of a combined waste stream and outdated data.”  

As to what changed, he said the Dutch exporter provided confidential business information that supported reauthorization. Chemours will use two separate shipping routes and associated transporters, Landis said.

The Fayetteville Works facility will receive the GenX for “recycle or reuse.” 

“Chemours’ Fayetteville Works site receives recovered HFPO-DA [GenX] from our Dordrecht Works facility for recycling, after which it is reused in the manufacturing processes to produce essential fluoropolymers for use in applications like semiconductor and electric vehicle production,” a Chemours spokesperson told PCD. “Reclaiming and recycling HFPO-DA is an important circularity activity that helps reduce the need to manufacture larger volumes of new, virgin HFPO-DA.”

The spokesperson said the company works closely with the EPA and authorities who review and approve the permits required to import the substance. It also has technologies in place to abate emissions of fluorinated compounds, based on the 2019 consent order with North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch.

Cape Fear River Watch executive director Dana Sargent told Port City Daily she was appalled that EPA allowed the transport after taking steps to stop additional PFAS from entering the environment. In March, the EPA announced it’s pushing for the first-ever national drinking water standards, legally enforceable regulations, for six PFAS. The federal agency also launched its PFAS Strategic Roadmap in 2021 to outline actions for protecting human and environmental health from the toxic forever chemicals. It provided $10 billion to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“The EPAs quiet approval of [importing GenX], which we would not have known about if not for a reporter digging it up, is reminiscent of the ‘outing’ of the PFAS issue in NC by another reporter six years ago,” Sargent said.

She was referring to Lisa Sorg’s breaking of the news this week about the importing of GenX as well as Vaughn Hagerty’s exposure of GenX in the Cape Fear River, published in the StarNews in 2017 (Hagerty now works for Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s communications team).

“Clearly nothing’s changed in our state and federal agencies with respect to transparency or their unshakeable support of polluting industries over public health and the environment,” Sargent added. 

The EPA’s authorization letter also checks “no” per any special handling requirements, indicating there is no oversight on how the hazardous material will be transported.

“None of the shipped wastes can be currently regulated as hazardous waste in the United States under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act and the implementing regulations,” the letter states.

Landis clarified the EPA did not have a legal basis to object to the import.

Fayetteville Works must follow federal and state consent orders requiring strict water discharge and air emissions limitations “to protect workers, surrounding and downstream communities and the environment.”

“We are left yet again in shock at the audacity and moral deficiencies of our federal and state regulators — the former for allowing this and the latter for seemingly having no knowledge of it,” Sargent said. “The apparent ineptitude and disregard for human health and the environment — by the agencies tasked only with protecting them — is unconscionable.”

NCDEQ spokesperson Shawn Taylor noted Chemours was issued a violation of its air emissions permit in 2021, resulting in a $305,000 penalty. The company also agreed to limit GenX emissions to no more than 1 pound per month between May and September 2022. Facility-wide, Chemours’ emissions are limited to 23 pounds per year, equaling a 99% reduction from 2017.

The recent approval to import GenX for recycling to the U.S. comes on the heels of an overseas investigation into Chemours launched last month by criminal Dutch attorney Bénédicte Ficq. She filed a class-action suit in September against DuPoint and its 2015 spinoff Chemours for causing decades of pollution at its plant south of Rotterdam.

Sept. 27 the Rotterdam district court ruled Chemours is liable for environmental damage of four towns in the Netherlands — Dordrecht and neighboring Sliedrecht, Papendrech and Molenlanden, according to a report from Reuters.

The suit alleges the company’s executives have knowingly released harmful emissions of PFAS into the air, soil and water since the 1970s. According to NL Times, a news outlet in the Netherlands, Chemours tried to quietly settle the damage claim with the four municipalities for “several millions” but the towns declined.

The pollution mirrors what residents of the Cape Fear region have also been experiencing for the last 40-some years. Chemours Fayetteville Works facility has been dumping PFAS into the Cape Fear River, contaminating the drinking water for at least 1.5 million people.

On the heels of the Netherlands class action suit, signed by 2,400 people, the Dutch Public Prosecution Service launched a criminal investigation into Chemours’ Dordrecht facility. It will focus on PFO and GenX emissions up until 2012, in an attempt to hold accountable all factory managers since 1967, according to the DutchNews.

“The investigation focuses on potentially harmful effects of PFOA emissions on humans and the environment in the vicinity of the plant site in the period up to 2012,” the prosecution department told the DutchNews Oct. 19. “As part of that investigation, it will also consider whether there is any criminal liability on the part of the company’s executives.”

The investigation could take up to a year and investigators will consider expanding its coverage past 2012 to cover additional PFAS found in various products.

The health ramifications of long-term exposure to PFAS continue to be studied, though adverse health effects including impaired thyroid function, increased cholesterol levels, decreased immune system response and increased risk to certain cancers, including testicular and kidney.

Locally, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority sued Chemours in 2017 to recoup costs associated with expensive mitigation measures. Last October the utility company announced its granular activated carbon filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant were effectively removing the chemicals, but the new filters carried a $43-million price tag. 

Customers are shouldering its financial burden, paying roughly $3.19 more per month this fiscal year, after facing a $5-per-month increase the previous. Rates are anticipated to spike 13% over a decade. The filters cost an estimated $5 million each year to maintain.

CFPUA filed a second suit in March, requesting additional damages, claiming it has spent more than $64 million protecting customers from PFAS contamination, with future costs and punitive damages exceeding $174 million. 

READ MORE: CFPUA files second lawsuit against DuPont, Chemours

The lawsuit claims the companies knew the chemicals it was dumping into the river were toxic and failed to notify regulators or the public.

CFPUA spokesperson Hagerty told Port City Daily in March the decision to file the lawsuit was made following a recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling that found DuPont’s offloading of assets was an attempt to evade accountability, but they are still liable. 

A consortium of nonprofits, including Clean Cape Fear and CFRW, are appealing a suit against the EPA dismissed March 30, hoping to compel the agency to require Chemours to fund studies on 54 contaminants.

While the EPA has issued health advisories — non enforceable assessments noting concentrations of contaminants where adverse health effects are not anticipated over time — for GenX at 10 parts per trillion. By contrast, interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS are 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt, down from 70 ppt in 2016.

“We are proud of our community’s outrage and working with our partners across the state and country to get the answers we need in order to find the best strategies to stop this and when we do, we will need the community to keep showing up,” Sargent said.

Chemours Fayetteville Works is also in the midst of expanding its facilities to meet the demand for the domestic semiconductor supply chain and clean energy products, such as fuel batteries and parts for electric vehicles. The company has applied for an updated permit application to follow suit as the expansion means an increase in production of a monomer building block for PFA. NCDEQ’s Taylor said the application has not yet been deemed complete by the state agency.

“The Division will conduct a comprehensive review of the application and plans to schedule a full public engagement process, including a public comment period and public hearings, to be announced at a later date,” he said.

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