[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Coastal Review Online and is being reprinted with permission. You can find the original, and more reporting from Coastal review, here.]
SOUTHEASTERN N.C. (Coastal Review Online) — The state is taking public comments until Sept. 17 on the latest steps to prevent GenX and other per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from entering the Cape Fear River through contaminated groundwater from the Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Site.
The state Department of Environmental Quality and the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, announced Thursday — to the surprise of Cape Fear Public Utility Authority — an addendum to the consent order, which was finalized in February 2019 among DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch and Chemours.
Public comments can be submitted electronically NCDEQ by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Assistant Secretary’s Office, RE: Chemours Public Comments 1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1601. DEQ will consider the public comments before the addendum is presented for entry by the Bladen County Superior Court.
“Since 2017, DEQ actions and the Consent Order have stopped the process wastewater discharge from the facility and drastically reduced air emissions of PFAS by 99.9%,” according to a Thursday release from the state. “The additional actions presented today in the Addendum to the Consent Order will further reduce the PFAS contamination to the Cape Fear River and improve water quality for downstream communities.”
The addendum will require Chemours to treat four identified seeps that account for more than half of the contaminated groundwater reaching the river in two phases.
“The interim measures to filter PFAS at an efficiency of at least 80% from the first of the four seeps will go into effect starting by Mid-November – with all four completed by April 2021. The permanent measure is the construction of a subsurface barrier wall approximately 1.5 miles long and groundwater extraction system that will remove at least 99% of PFAS to be completed by March 2023,” according to the state.
The addendum also requires Chemours to treat onsite stormwater that is adding residual pollution to the river with a capture and treatment system that must remove at least 99% of PFAS.
Failure to meet the schedules or achieve the removal goals will result in financial penalties. Penalties include the following:
- Failure to meet the construction schedule for the interim measures will result in fines of $5,000 per day for the first 14 days and $10,000/day until construction is complete.
- Failure to meet the barrier wall installation schedule results in a $150,000 fine followed by $20,000 per week until installation is complete.
- Failure to meet the barrier wall’s 95% mass loading goal in the initial demonstration results in a $500,000 fine, with a $100,000 fine for failure to meet any of the four subsequent demonstrations.
“We have already issued significant penalties and ordered Chemours to stop actively polluting. Today’s actions lay out exactly how Chemours will clean up the residual contamination they’ve caused that continues to impact communities along the Cape Fear River,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan Thursday in a statement. “This level of action is unprecedented and continues to build a foundation for the Attorney General’s broader investigation of PFAS in North Carolina. As a state, we will not wait for action from the federal government to provide relief for our communities and protect our natural resources.”
Attorney General Josh Stein announced last week a formal investigation into manufacturers and other parties responsible for PFAS contamination in North Carolina. Stein will expand his investigation into PFAS contamination to understand the extent of the damages to North Carolina’s natural resources caused by contamination from GenX and other PFAS chemicals and to further evaluate contamination elsewhere in the surface waters, soils, and groundwater of North Carolina.
“North Carolinians expect and deserve clean water to drink,” said Stein. “The emergence of forever chemicals like PFAS has led to significant and dangerous pollution – and we must hold those responsible accountable. This investigation is about protecting people from current and future PFAS contamination and restoring North Carolina’s damaged natural resources. My office will not hesitate to bring legal action against any polluters if that’s what it takes to keep the people of North Carolina safe.”
A statement Thursday from Chemours states that agreeing to the changes makes further commitments to reduce groundwater-related impacts from the site to the Cape Fear River, including implementing a groundwater extraction system and flow-through cells to treat the four groundwater seeps.
“Each of these have been identified as contributing PFAS mass loadings, and the systems once installed will reduce the annual mass loadings, including a long-term remedy objective for the seeps of reducing annual loadings by 99% during dry weather conditions and 95% including some rain events.”
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority officials found out Thursday from NCDEQ Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman and NCDEQ General Counsel Bill Lane that the agreement had been reached on the addendum to the consent order mandating steps Chemours must take to address years of PFAS releases from its chemical manufacturing site, according to CFPUA.
CFPUA explained that the staff and its attorneys, “who have been in ongoing discussions with the state regarding the consent order’s insufficient consideration for the interests of our customers,” were surprised by the information and that no mention was made of this addendum in those discussions.
“It is disappointing that we and our customers have once again been excluded by the State from these discussions about a subject that is of vital interest to our community,” CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner said in a statement.
“We have seen no evidence this or any of the steps proposed so far by Chemours will sufficiently improve water quality to the same level that the State has set as the standard for private well owners around Chemours’ site,” Flechtner continued. “We continue to be frustrated that our customers continue to be treated differently than people near the plant.”
On the heels of learning about the addendum, CFPUA provided DEQ with comments Monday on the draft wastewater discharge permit that Chemours requested.
According to a news release from the state July 17, Chemours requested for the discharge of treated groundwater, stormwater and surface water from a stream on the southern portion of its property in order to reduce PFAS loading to the Cape Fear River and comply with the consent order.
“Chemours is required under the terms of paragraph 12(e) of the Consent Order to reduce by at least 99% PFAS in the groundwater flowing from the site through Old Outfall 002 into the Cape Fear River and downstream intakes,” per the state.
The treatment system must be operational by September 30, 2020, according to the Consent Order. “The system will treat groundwater that currently discharges without treatment into the river, and it is not designed for process wastewater from the facility. Since 2017, Chemours has been prohibited from discharging process wastewater into the Cape Fear River.”
CFPUA submitted comments on a draft permit “that would allow Chemours to discharge into the Cape Fear River as much as 1.58 million gallons of wastewater a day resulting from a treatment system the company says will reduce per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in surface water, stormwater, and groundwater from Chemours’ industrial site on the Cumberland-Bladen county line,” according to a release.
“Overall, we find the proposed discharge permit and treatment system are the latest in an ongoing succession of partial measures Chemours promises to undertake to fulfill its obligations under the February 2019 consent order meant to address decades of PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River by Chemours and the company that created it, DuPont. Like so many of Chemours’ previous proposals under this consent order, the stated PFAS-reduction goals meant to benefit hundreds of thousands of downstream water users such as CFPUA’s customers fall far short of the far more specific, timely measures afforded a few thousand private well owners around the Chemours site,” the comments signed by Flechtner state.