Editor’s Note: This report originally published Nov. 16 was updated at 11:27 a.m. Nov. 20 with comments from a Chemours spokesman.
RALEIGH – The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday it is moving to revoke Chemours’ permit to discharge process wastewater because the company failed to comply with its permit and failed to report an Oct. 6 spill from a manufacturing line at the Fayetteville Works facility.
DEQ officials also notified Chemours that the state will suspend its permit to discharge process wastewater from its manufacturing area including the areas where GenX and other fluorinated compounds are produced. The suspension will take effect Nov. 30. Chemours is still required by the state to divert wastewater containing GenX and transport it out-of-state for disposal.
The notifications came in a letter DEQ sent to Chemours Thursday.
“It is unacceptable that Chemours has failed to disclose information required by law, information we need in order to protect the public,” said Michael S. Regan, DEQ secretary. “We’re taking action to suspend Chemours’ wastewater permit and moving to permanently revoke it because the company has repeatedly failed to follow the law.”
Earlier this week, DEQ cited Chemours with violating the conditions of its wastewater discharge permit because of the company’s failure to report the Oct. 6 spill. The spill came to light one month after it occurred when DEQ officials questioned Chemours about state water quality results indicating elevated concentrations of GenX at Chemours’ primary wastewater discharge outfall.
Chemours’ wastewater discharge permit requires that DEQ be notified within 24 hours of any discharge of significant amounts of waste that are abnormal in quantity or characteristic, as well as any non-compliance that potentially threatens public health or the environment.
DEQ determined that Chemours’ violation of the reporting requirements in the permit following the Oct. 6 spill was sufficient basis for the revocation of the permit to discharge process wastewater. DEQ said it would continue to collect and test water samples from the Cape Fear River including at the Chemours outfall.
The revocation of Chemours’ permit to discharge process wastewater from its manufacturing areas will take effect after the required 60-day notice to Chemours and public participation in the permit process. The revocation does not apply to process wastewater from Kuraray and DuPont facilities that is treated and discharged by Chemours under the wastewater discharge permit.
“People who are personally affected by the GenX crisis will be relieved to know that North Carolina’s environmental regulators will hold polluters accountable for their actions,” Erin Carey, the North Carolina Sierra Club’s Coastal Programs Coordinator, said in a statement. “We are pleased that Governor Cooper and Secretary Regan have taken strong action today to protect public health and the environment.”
Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette agreed that Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary Regan “did the right thing.”
“Chemours has violated the public trust too many times to be given another chance. But this move is just the beginning. The Cape Fear River is beautiful, and it sustains us, but I’ve come to realize it’s also a battleground. We have GenX and innumerable other industrial chemicals in our water because for too long, polluters have been winning this battle – the whims of polluters have been placed above the needs of people,” he said. “Now, thanks to Gov. Cooper and Secretary Regan’s latest move, and thanks to the community members and institutions in the lower Cape Fear who sounded the alarm about GenX, people are finally striking back. The fight against chemical dumping in our rivers and streams will be a long one, but this is a big step in the right direction.”
North Carolina Conservation Network Executive Director Brian Buzby said in a statement that his organization applauds the decision to suspend and revoke the Chemours permit.
“It’s time now for the legislature to follow suit and take a hard line against the entities dumping chemicals in our rivers and drinking water sources,” Buzby said. “GenX isn’t the only chemical in the Cape Fear, and the Cape Fear isn’t the only river afflicted with the presence of industrial chemicals. It’s well past time for state lawmakers to provide adequate funding for the agencies charged with monitoring, managing, and protecting our public waterways.”
Chemours Spokesman Gary Cambre told Coastal Review Online in an email that they “believe DEQ’s stated intention to suspend and revoke the process wastewater discharge permit for Fayetteville Works is unwarranted.”
“The company has worked in good faith to cooperate fully with all of DEQ’s requests, including capturing all wastewater they have previously requested that we capture. While we do not believe there is a legal basis on which to suspend or revoke the permit, we will accept the DWR’s invitation in its letter that we meet with them and look forward to discussing a path forward,” he continued. “We remain committed to operating this facility, which employs hundreds of North Carolina residents, in accordance with all applicable laws and in a manner that respects the environment and public health and safety.”