Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cape Fear River Watch, SELC demand state take action on Chemours’ pollution

NCDEQ is under more pressure to act against Chemours. Cape Fear River Watch and SELC have asked NCDEQ to immediately require Chemours to cease all perfluorinated compound discharges and emissions

Several municipalities in southeastern North Carolina have passed resolutions in solidarity with CFPUA to ask NCDEQ to hold Fayetteville Works accountable. (Port City Daily photo /COURTESY GOOGLE MAPS)
Several municipalities in southeastern North Carolina have passed resolutions in solidarity with CFPUA to ask NCDEQ to hold Fayetteville Works accountable. (Port City Daily photo /COURTESY GOOGLE MAPS)

CHAPEL HILL—The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is being asked, once again, to exercise its authority over Chemours for polluting the public water and air supply.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, has filed a request for declaratory action asking NCDEQ to use its power.

RELATED: Pender, Brunswick County call on DEQ to hold Chemours accountable

Earlier this year, five southeastern North Carolina municipalities passed resolutions requesting NCDEQ to immediately require Chemours—a subsidiary of DuPont—to cease production of fluorochemical compounds.

Those resolutions held no legal weight, though they did add political pressure on the state’s regulatory environmental agency. Now, with the Cape Fear River Watch’s May 7 filing, NCDEQ is required to respond within 30 days.

Last month, NCDEQ filed legal action against Chemours in Bladen County Superior Court. The filings required Chemours to “remove, treat or control” air emissions of GenX compounds. NCDEQ also issued a 60-day notice of intent on April 6 to modify Chemours’ existing Air Quality Permit.

On April 27, Chemours responded to the NCDEQ’s intent to modify its permit, outlining plans for emissions control activities through 2020. NCDEQ spokesperson, Megan Thorpe, said Chemours’ response is still under review.

Not enough

For the Cape Fear River Watch and the Southern Environmental Law Center(SELC), these actions have not been enough.

“So what DEQ has done is they’ve asked Bladen County Superior Court to stop emissions and discharges,” Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney at SELC said. “What they haven’t done is (admit) that they have the authority to do it on their own.”

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Clean Water Act, Cape Fear River Watch and SELC argue that NCDEQ has the authority to immediately force Chemours to cease production of “toxic per-and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) compounds.”

Kemp Burdette, riverkeeper for Cape Fear River Watch, said NCDEQ’s “small actions to limit discharge” fall beneath the agency’s legal and moral obligations.

“They have the authority right now, today, right this second, to stop Chemours from discharging this stuff,” Burdette said. “Not only do they have the authority, but they have the obligation to stop it according to the law.”

The case

The filing cites DuPont’s track record of knowingly contaminating the public water and air supply. It states that Chemours and DuPont “have knowingly polluted North Carolina’s public water sources with GenX and other toxic PFAS compounds for nearly four decades, causing widespread and dangerous contamination to the state’s surface and groundwaters.” 

“I don’t understand why the state seems to be so willing to just continue to allow them to do this—it doesn’t make any sense.”

According to the filing, the GenX compound has been found up to 5.5 miles away from Fayetteville Works facility in at least 690 private wells. These measurements detected GenX at 28 times the state’s health goal. 

“It’s very clear that Chemours has misled the state. It’s clear that they have lied to the state. It’s clear that they have covered up spills that have occurred at the site,” Burdette said. “They’ve failed to report these things.”

Under a provision that permits NCDEQ to act during emergency events that cause a threat to public health, Burdette said NCDEQ is falling short of its responsibilities. 

“I don’t understand why the state seems to be so willing to just continue to allow them to do this—it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “[Chemours] are right now as we speak, they are omitting GenX and this host of other perfluorinated compounds into the environment.”

NCDEQ’s response

Cape Fear River Watch and SELC’s filings—a request for declaratory action and two notice of intents to sue Fayetteville Works—were all filed Monday.

Bridget Munger, a spokesperson for NCDEQ, said the filings ask for actions the agency has already taken.

“DEQ will review SELC’s petition thoroughly and make an appropriate decision on their request,” Munger wrote in an email. “It appears SELC’s petition is primarily based on the multiple enforcement actions the department has already taken against Chemours to halt the company’s emissions of GenX and protect North Carolinians’ water and air.”

For Burdette, getting NCDEQ to force Chemours to stop the production of perfluorinated compounds is the highest priority.

“This is a company that has an incredible amount of resources and attorneys, they can drag out a court case for decades and that’s too long,” Burdette said. “We cant deal in the Cape Fear region with 20 more years while they fight tooth and nail to dump on citizens and to poison people in order to watch their profits increase.”

Request for Declaratory Ruling by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd


Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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