Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Chemours says report of increased sediment flow into Cape Fear River was false alarm

Chemours and CFPUA are monitoring levels of PFAS chemicals downriver form the Chemours plant in Greenville. Pictured is the Cape Fear River near downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Chemours and CFPUA both stepped up testing this week after a report of a sediment spill. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — According to an email from Chemours, shared by CFPUA on Saturday afternoon, the apparent increase in sediment flow into the Cape Fear River at the company’s Fayetteville Works facility was the result of natural river conditions, not the company’s construction work.

Earlier this week, Chemours notified the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority of what it believed at the time to be a possible increase in sediment pushed into the Cape Fear River by construction work. Both Chemours and CFPUA performed increased testing on the water to check for a potential spike in PFAS levels, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality investigated the scene.

Some noted the irony of the situation since the construction work was part of a court-mandated remediation project to reduce PFAS pollution,

Chemours notified CFPUA on Saturday evening to say the company now believes construction was not to blame, and that what was witnessed was merely a natural phenomenon. Chemours believes the sediment observed was the result of river water running over wood debris and silt, with the resulting turbidity (or cloudiness) of the water being made more pronounced by lower river levels, likely due in part to hot, dry conditions over the last several weeks.

In an email received at 5:03 p.m. Saturday, July 25, Christel Compton, Environmental Manager at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works chemical plant, wrote:

“Chemours is sending this update following our July 22nd and 23rd notifications concerning conditions at Fayetteville Works.  Based on additional investigation, and as detailed further below, we now believe the conditions observed were not caused by sediments from construction activities for the Old Outfall treatment system.

“As we noted on July 22, our consultants had visually observed an apparent increase in the quantity of sediments (increased turbidity) at the confluence of the Old Outfall and Cape Fear River.  At that time, based on limited information, we believed the increased turbidity may have been caused by sediments from construction activities for the Old Outfall treatment system.  Because of the possibility that such sediments could result in a short term increase in PFAS levels downstream, we promptly notified NCDEQ, Cape Fear River Watch, and downstream users.  This notification was made out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to be fully transparent, pending further investigation and sampling of the river.

“As we noted on July 23, we collected samples seven miles downriver from Fayetteville Works and analyzed the samples at our on-site laboratory.  The results showed no detection of HFPO Dimer Acid at a detection limit of approximately 100 parts per trillion and no detections for the other PFAS “Table 3+ Compounds” (with detection limits of 100 parts per trillion for all compounds except PEPA and NVHOS, and a detection limit of 500 parts per trillion for those two).

“Based on those sampling results and further investigation, we now believe that the increased turbidity that had been observed at the confluence of the Old Outfall and Cape Fear River was not caused by construction activities for the Old Outfall treatment system.  On July 23, a representative from NCDEQ inspected the area and observed that the river appeared normal and the water leaving the construction site did not exhibit increased turbidity.  The turbidity that our consultants had observed on July 22 appears to have been caused by physical conditions around the confluence of the Old Outfall and Cape Fear River, where the water drops in elevation and flows over woody debris and a silt bed.  The turbidity was more observable because of lower river levels at that time.

“Please let us know if you have any questions.”

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