After missing two deadlines, Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility notified state officials earlier this month that construction was complete on an underground barrier wall to stop contaminated groundwater from seeping into the Cape Fear River.
Chemours was instructed under a court-enforceable order to build the roughly mile-long barrier after the public was made aware in 2017 that the company had been discharging a number of human-made chemical compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, into the river for decades.
The Cape Fear River is the drinking water source for tens of thousands of people who live downstream of the plant nearly 80 miles from downtown Wilmington.
Under the terms of a 2019 consent order and subsequent 2020 addendum among Chemours, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, and Cape Fear River Watch, Chemours must reduce air emissions facility wide by 99.9%, cut PFAS emissions into the Cape Fear River by more than 90%, and sample private wells for PFAS and provide drinking water to residents whose wells are contaminated.
Chemours in early 2020 installed a thermal oxidizer to destroy PFAS from entering the air.
The company failed to meet a March 15 deadline to complete the barrier off the river bank at the plant site in Bladen County.
On March 1, Chemours alerted DEQ that the project would not be completed by that deadline due to mechanical and staffing issues. DEQ officials assigned a new deadline for May 31, but the company missed that deadline as well. The progress is noted in an email exchange later posted on NCDEQ’s website after the second deadline was set.
Dawn M. Hughes, plant manager for Fayetteville Works, notified DEQ in a June 11 email that construction of the barrier was completed.
“The team will continue additional project efforts including quality assurance checks over the next several weeks. This is a significant milestone as part of the overall project,” Hughes wrote.
A Chemours representative confirmed Friday in a follow-up request for comment that the company “has completed the construction of our barrier wall and groundwater capture and treatment project in Fayetteville, NC consistent with our Consent Order and Consent Order Addendum with NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch.”
The representative said the system is actively extracting and treating groundwater as well as capturing seep water and stormwater.
“Based on initial monitoring data, the treatment system is operating well and meeting current and future discharge limits,” the representative continued. “The underground barrier wall has been installed. Looking ahead, our team will focus on operation, maintenance, and monitoring of the system while we complete all ancillary work and reporting required by the project.”
Sharon Martin, DEQ deputy secretary for public affairs, confirmed in an email Friday afternoon that department officials were notified June 11 the barrier had been completed.
“The extraction wells and treatment system have been operational since February,” Martin said in the email. “The NPDES permit for the treatment system specifies the monitoring and reporting requirements. DEQ staff have and will continue to visit the site as necessary. DEQ is reviewing next steps.”
Martin did not specifically answer whether the company would be held accountable for missing the May 31 deadline.
The barrier extends some six stories deep to stop groundwater, which is being diverted to about 70 wells, conveyed to an onsite treatment facility and treated before it is discharged into the river.