EPA okays Chemours request to export GenX from the Netherlands to Fayetteville Works plant
4 million pounds could be shipped over the next year; DEQ says it was unaware
The U.S. EPA is reviewing its previous authorization of Chemours to import up to 4 million pounds of GenX from the Netherlands to North Carolina over the next year. Image: Adapted from Google Maps by Lisa Sorg for NC Newsline
The Chemours Fayetteville Works plant can import up to 4 million pounds of GenX from the company’s Netherlands facility over the next year, according to an EPA letter authorizing the shipments — 220 times the amount exported in 2014.
The GenX will originate at the Chemours plant in Dordrecht. The facility could export as many as 100 shipments via the Port of Wilmington to Fayetteville during the authorization period, which expires Sept. 7, 2024.
The Fayetteville Works plant will recycle or reuse the GenX, according to EPA documents. However, it’s unclear if this process would still create waste and require treatment to keep it from entering the environment.
Chemours did not respond questions submitted by Newsline in an email.
The amount of GenX that could arrive at the Fayetteville Works plant far exceeds previous imports. An investigation by the Dutch media outlet ILT found that the amount of GenX exported from the Dordrecht plant to Fayetteville increased from 10 tons in 2014 to 116 tons in 2018.
GenX is one type of 15,000 PFAS — short for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — that have been proven to harm human health, including testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancers, low birth weight, reproductive disorders, depressed immune responses and high cholesterol. They are widespread in the environment, where they don’t degrade, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.”
“Chemours has not come close to cleaning up the mess they’ve already made,” said Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, based in Wilmington, one of the hardest-hit areas by GenX contamination. “Neither DEQ nor EPA have held them accountable for the breadth of the damage. Here again is proof that, if another state or country has something dirty to dispose of, North Carolina is first in line to put our health and environment at risk, in support of padding the pockets of polluting industries.”
GenX is far more toxic that scientists originally believed, according to the EPA. In October 2021, the agency released a final toxicology assessment for the compound, showing that even lower levels of GenX in drinking water could harm human health, particularly the liver. The EPA proposed drinking water standards for several types of PFAS, including GenX, earlier this year.
Chemours has challenged the EPA’s toxicology analysis of GenX.
The EPA required Chemours to temporarily halt its exports to the U.S. in December 2018, Newsline previously reported. At the time, the EPA based its objection to the exports on “an inappropriate use of a combined waste stream and outdated data.” The agency said it wanted to review more “current, detailed information concerning the wastes to be shipped and the management of the wastes.”
The EPA reauthorized the shipments in September, an agency spokesperson told Newsline, after “the Dutch exporter provided confidential business information that supported providing the conditional consent.”
The shipments would occur as Chemours plans to expand its Fayetteville Works plant; DEQ is still reviewing the company’s permit applications. However, the company has made scant progress in the cleanup of the Cape Fear River, hundreds of private drinking water wells and surrounding groundwater, which is contaminated over at least 70 square miles. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in southeastern North Carolina have drunk contaminated water for years as a result of pollution emitted by Chemours and its predecessor, DuPont.
“We know they’ve mishandled GenX on that site,” said Geoff Gisler, program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center. The SELC represented Cape Fear River Watch in negotiating a consent order with the company and DEQ to curb emissions and discharges of GenX and other PFAS. “When they import this [GenX], they engage in the same type of activity that resulted in outrageous levels of PFAS.”
The consent decree and ensuing DEQ permits strengthened some environmental controls, but Chemours’s violation record shows the company has missed deadlines and failed to consistently rein in its emissions and discharges. “DEQ should ask some really tough questions what procedures in place to ensure that doesn’t happen,” when the Fayetteville Works plant receives an additional 4 million pounds of GenX from Europe, Gisler said.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality didn’t know about the re-authorization, said Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs Sharon Martin. “EPA manages that process and is not required to notify the state,” Martin said.
It would be unusual for the EPA to exclude DEQ from discussions about resuming the exports because of the two agencies’ close relationship. The EPA did not respond to follow-up questions about the notification by deadline.
The new authorization “emphasizes the need to step back and look at what we’re doing here,” Gisler said. “This is the single greatest environmental disaster in North Carolina history. This is a company that has consistently refused to recognize the harm. And now they’re going to export toxic waste from Europe to Fayetteville.”
The GenX can be exported under the EPA’s current authorization letter, but not if the compound is regulated as hazardous waste in the U.S. The EPA has not designated GenX and the 15,000 types of PFAS has hazardous waste, but a pending decision could start the process of doing so.
The federal Office of Management and Budget is considering a petition by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to designate GenX, along with PFOA, PFOS and PFBS, as hazardous waste. The OMB is two months’ overdue in issuing its decision on whether the EPA can proceed with rulemaking.
If the EPA does regulate the four compounds as hazardous waste, the material can still be imported into the U.S., but under more stringent rules. For example, importers can keep the waste onsite for only a limited time, and the transport of the materials requires special handling and must be tracked using the EPA’s public e-Manifest system.
Chemours already lists its transport of GenX within the U.S. In just one month, from June to July 2023, the company’s Fayetteville Works plant shipped by tanker truck and rail 4,107.14 tons of GenX and other PFAS to a facility in Deer Park, Texas, which injects the waste into deep wells.
Emily Donovan is co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, an environmental advocacy group based in Brunswick County. Drinking water in some parts of the county has the highest levels of PFAS contamination in the U.S., according to a study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
“This sounds like 2,000 metric tons of bullshit,” Donovan said. “We continue to be shocked by the sheer audacity of the corporate polluter Chemours. We refuse to be the global dumping ground for PFAS waste from this irresponsible company. Where was the transparency? Why were surrounding impacted communities in North Carolina not made aware of this request before it was approved? We have children burying their parents due to premature cancer deaths. We have parents going to bed every night wondering if their child’s pediatric cancer was caused by Chemours. We refuse to be a PFAS sacrifice zone.”
Chemours and DuPont have contaminated the drinking water not only in North Carolina, but in West Virginia — and the Netherlands. A Dutch court recently found Chemours is liable for PFAS contamination in towns near Dordrecht between 1984 and 1998, Reuters reported.
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