For a second time, the Fayetteville-based company found six years ago to be releasing toxins into the Cape Fear River has missed a state-imposed deadline to complete construction of a groundwater barrier.
Chemours Co. was given an extension until May 31 to complete a mile-long underground barrier wall project after it failed to finish the work by March 15 as initially required, but the DuPont spinoff company has again failed to meet the deadline.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is requiring the barrier wall remediation project to reduce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in groundwater at the Chemours Fayetteville Works site.
A Chemours spokesperson told Coastal Review Thursday that the company expects the barrier wall to be complete this month.
The terms for the project to reduce PFAS loading from groundwater flow from under the site to the Cape Fear River and Willis Creek were set in the 2020 addendum to the February 2019 consent order among the company, NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, which was represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center in the legal challenge that prompted state action.
The order and the addendum require Chemours to address PFAS sources and contamination at the facility to prevent further impacts to air, soil, groundwater and surface waters.
Among the many remediation steps, the addendum charges Chemours with the “complete installation of, and commence operation of, the Barrier Wall and Groundwater Extraction System” by March 15, 2023.
In addition to the barrier, a groundwater extraction system was required to prevent groundwater moving around, above or under the barrier wall and to remove PFAS from extracted groundwater. That system is already in operation.
Fayetteville Works Plant Manager Dawn Hughes in a March 1, 2023, letter to NCDEQ wrote that while the groundwater extraction and treatment system “has been designed, approved, permitted, and installed and is being commissioned” the need for a “revised schedule” for completing the barrier wall was due to permitting taking longer than expected and pandemic-related supply chain issues.
NCDEQ officials “determined that the revised schedule, which requires project completion no later than May 31, 2023, is consistent with the Consent Order and Consent Order Addendum,” according to a March 2 letter responding to Chemours.
NCDEQ officials did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Thursday.
Southern Environmental Law Center Program Director Geoff Gisler said in response to a request for comment that the barrier “is an essential part of protecting people downstream of the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility. Chemours’ repeated failure to meet the deadline for finishing this critical project means that people in North Carolina who depend on the Cape Fear River will continue to be unnecessarily exposed to the company’s dangerous pollution. DEQ must hold Chemours responsible for its continued delay.”
The Chemours representative said Thursday that the company “continues to progress on the construction and implementation of our barrier wall and groundwater extraction and treatment project in Fayetteville.
“At present, the groundwater extraction and treatment system has been installed and is actively extracting and treating groundwater at a rate of approximately 500 gal/min. Based on initial monitoring data, the treatment system is operating well and meeting current and future discharge limits. Additionally, we have made significant progress on the construction of the barrier wall, and we expect it to be complete in June.”
Cape Fear River Watch Dana Sargent told Coastal Review that the delay was unacceptable.
“When are you going to finish this?” she said.