WILMINGTON — As questions about The Chemours Company and GenX continue to grow, state health officials are looking into Kuraray America, a Japanese manufacturer that shares Chemours’ state wastewater permit and is a tenant at its Fayetteville plant.
According to Marla Sink, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Kuraray’s wastewater operations are under scrutiny because its waste literally comes out of the same pipe as Chemours’ waste.
Kuraray purchased DuPont’s laminated glass facilities in 2014, the half-billion dollar deal included operations at Fayetteville. Like Chemours, an independent company that took over DuPont’s Performance Chemicals business, Kuraray operates at the Fayetteville Works facility – Dupont, Chemours and Kuraray all share the same state permit.
As Sink said, “the wastewater from all three comes through one pipe.”
Production of PFOA, toxin and GenX precursor
Unlike DuPont and Chemours, Kuraray still appears to be producing perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C8 (because it has eight carbon atoms in its molecular structure). According to EPA records, the Kuraray plant in Fayetteville has been dumping increasing amounts of PFOA into the Cape Fear watershed.
PFOA was at the center of several actions taken against DuPont by the EPA. The chemical patent was purchased from 3M and used in manufacturing Teflon, but ran into trouble when studies began to indicate the chemical was toxic, persisting in the human body for long periods of time. (You can read the EPA summary of health effects here, but there are many independent studies, as well).
Even after phasing out PFOA use – and selling several of its PFOA manufacturing plants to Chemours – lawsuits over PFOA toxicity persisted. In February of this year, a $670 million settlement was reached between Dupont, Chemours and residents of Ohio and West Virginia.
The toxicity – and presumably, the bad press – over PFOA, Dupont and Chemours phased out the use of PFOA and replaced it with perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid (PFPrOPrA), known as “GenX.” (The Chemours website specifically states that GenX allows them to “manufacture high-performance fluoropolymers without the use of PFOA.”)
PFOA in the Cape Fear River
Unlike GenX, PFOA is regulated by the EPA, whether produced intentionally or as a by-product. However, in a 2016 study that sampled water in the Cape Fear, PFOA levels repeatedly exceeded EPA limits. The study, authored in part by Detlef Knappe and a team from North Carolina State University, was also responsible for revealing the presence of GenX in post-filtration water produced and sold by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA).
Comment from Kuraray America
Further information about Kuraray’s operation was difficult to come by. The EPA directed questions about wastewater from the Fayetteville site to the state level (specifically, to the DEQ). Follow-up questions about whether the EPA was looking into Kuraray’s operations were not answered. At the state level, the DEQ said that – because Chemours and Kuraray share a single wastewater pipe – Kuraray’s waste operations would also be examined. When asked if DuPont and Kuraray would receive the same level of scrutiny as Chemours, no answer was given.
Deborah Carpenter, a spokeswoman for Kuraray America, said that the plant does share a wastewater port with Chemours and DuPont.
“We share a waste permit with Chemours, and DuPont – who we purchased the facility from. But we don’t use GenX or PFOA in our process. We don’t use either of those in our manufacturing,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said she was aware of the EPA’s report on PFOA. After consulting with Kuraray’s in-house environmental team, Carpenter said Kuraray believes the EPA’s DMR site mislabeled the PFOA release. Carpenter indicated another company was dumping the chemical, but would not specify which one.
Port City Daily has been in conversation with the EPA about the matter. However, questions posed on Tuesday afternoon about Kuraray and PFOA have not yet been answered.
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