Tuesday, April 16, 2024

CFPUA takes action as Chemours challenges latest discharge permit

CFPUA recently installed granular activated carbon filters, resulting in non-detectible PFAS levels in its treated drinking water. (Port City Daily/file)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The local water authority is stepping in after Chemours challenged heavy restrictions on how much PFAS it dumps into the Cape Fear River.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority filed a motion Thursday with the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings to intervene.

READ MORE: Chemours appeals NCDEQ discharge permit, claims not enough time to address new restrictions

On Sept. 15, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit for a granular activated carbon filtration system at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works site. The treatment system would coincide with a 1-mile-long barrier wall to capture contaminated groundwater before it enters the river.

NCDEQ amended the permit to require 99.9% reduction of PFAS and on Oct. 14, Chemours said it would not be able to meet the more stringent guidelines and filed an appeal to challenge it.

The permit allows for the Fayetteville facility to operate a 2.38 million gallons per day wastewater treatment facility.

The system Chemours designed follows the 2019 consent order with NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch to eliminate only 99% of PFAS compounds coming from the Chemours plant — not 99.9%. NCDEQ’s updated permit calls for almost 1% more restrictive limits.

The move came three days after the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority announced PFAS-free water due to its recently installed GAC filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

“At least 70% of our most recent rate increase and our next projected rate increase is directly attributable to Chemours’ pollution,” CFPUA executive director Kenneth Waldroup said in a press release Thursday. “On behalf of our customers, we have filed this motion to intervene and have a seat at the table so we can advocate for our community for enforcement of the permit as written.”

Chemours’ treatment system would discharge into the Cape Fear River upstream from where CFPUA takes in raw water. The Sweeney Plant treats about 80% of water distributed by CFPUA and since updating its system with GACs has cut the contamination to undetectable levels.

To date, the water company has spent more than $49 million to mitigate Chemours’ PFAS contamination, including $43 million in project costs to construct the new filters. Annual operating costs for the GAC filters are estimated at $3.7 million in fiscal year 2023 and $5 million in subsequent years. The expense falls on the customers in their monthly water bills to cover.

“The cost to operate the new GAC filters is directly tied to the amount of PFAS our neighbor Chemours is putting in the Cape Fear River,” Waldroup said in the release. “The more PFAS Chemours sends to the river, the more it costs us to remove those PFAS from our customers’ drinking water.”

CFPUA also filed a lawsuit five years ago in federal district court to compel Chemours to pay. Litigation is currently going through discovery with a trial date expected in 2024. A CFPUA spokesperson told Port City Daily earlier this month the suit is likely several years away and predicting the exact monetary award is difficult at this time. Yet, because CFPUA operates with no profit, its customers would be the beneficiaries of any financial win.

“It is truly baffling to see Chemours complain about having to reduce its GenX discharges to a level below the EPA’s health advisory level while simultaneously funding an image campaign to persuade those paying to deal with its PFAS contamination that it is a good neighbor and announcing its intention to expand production at the Fayetteville Works,” Waldroup said in the release.

The EPA released a health advisory in June, limiting GenX to 10 parts per trillion.

“As permit writers at NCDEQ have pointed out, the limits in the permit are based on the capabilities of the technology and health guidance from EPA,” Waldroup continued. “Chemours needs to live up to its stated corporate values.”

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