The Pulse

Chemours to appeal PFAS discharge permit, contends it can’t meet the requirements to reduce toxic compounds from entering Cape Fear River

By: - October 17, 2022 2:43 pm
A mile-long barrier wall roughly 60 feet deep would reduce the amount of PFAS entering the Cape Fear River from the Chemours plant. The water would also be treated to remove at least 99.9% of the compounds. However, the company says the system can’t meet all of the permit requirements. (Illustration: DEQ)

Chemours, the company responsible for contaminated the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina, says it can’t meet the standards in its recent discharge permit issued by the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

The permit, known as an NPDES, is related to the water treatment system for a mile-long barrier wall the company is installing at its Fayetteville Works plant to reduce PFAS seeping from groundwater into the Cape Fear River. DEQ issued the final permit in mid-September after an extensive public comment period.

“Chemours regrets that we must file an appeal” of the final permit, according to a company press release issued last Friday at 5:11 p.m.  “Late changes to the permit” included future pollution limits the that the company could not meet based on the design of the treatment system, the press release went on.

DEQ Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs Sharon Martin issued a statement on behalf of the agency: “The NPDES permit for the treatment system is part of the larger barrier wall remediation project to substantially reduce PFAS entering the Cape Fear River and impacting downstream communities.   Chemours is required to fulfill its obligations under the Consent Order and reduce the amount of contaminated groundwater reaching the Cape Fear River from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility.

The Consent Order Addendum specifies a minimum reduction of 99% for the treatment system. DEQ expects Chemours to take all necessary steps to minimize its PFAS impacts on the environment. Pursuing litigation threatens to delay implementation beyond the Consent Order deadline of March 2023 and extend the ongoing contamination reaching the river and impacting downstream residents.”

Within the first six months of operation, the treatment system must limit the amount of GenX to 120 ppt, PMPA to 100 ppt and for PFMOAA, 320 ppt. After six months, the thresholds are lower, to less than 10 ppt for GenX — the EPA’s health advisory goal — as well as 10 ppt for PMPA, and less than 20 ppt for PFMOAA.

Studies by toxicologist Jamie DeWitt at East Carolina University have suggested PFMOAA exposure could be toxic to the developing fetus.

While Chemours is claiming it can’t meet the terms of its discharge permit, the company recently announced plans to expand its Fayetteville Works plant. Chemours wants to increase its production of a molecular building block for PFA, a type of fluoropolymer, which belongs to the PFAS family.

The company has also failed to submit a required corrective action plan to clean up contaminated groundwater at least 7 square miles surrounding the plant.

Thousands of people have been exposed to that contamination in their groundwater via their private drinking water wells; hundreds of thousands more North Carolinians have been exposed to the compounds from the Cape Fear River; public utilities source drinking water from the river. The Cape Fear River Authority, which serves much of Wilmington, has installed a $46 million treatment system that has nearly eliminated the compounds. However, Brunswick County still reports total levels of PFAS ranging from 70 to 350 parts per trillion, far above health advisory goals, in some cases thousands of time higher.

This week the public will soon learn about the potential harm to human health in some of the state’s most contaminated areas for PFAS. The GenX Exposure Study Team is holding two public meetings this week to announce the results of blood samples collected in 2020-2021 from participants in New Hanover, and Brunswick counties, the town of Pittsboro, and many residents of Fayetteville who are private wells.

NC State University scientist Jane Hoppin and other academic researchers will lead the discussion and answer questions:

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 6-8 p.m., virtual meeting, no registration required
Via Zoom:
Dial-in: 1-312-626-6799  ID number: 92719272112


Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6-8 p.m., in-person, no registration required
Chatham Agricultural Center
1192 US Hwy 64 Business, Pittsboro

Previous studies have shown the presence of PFAS in Wilmington residents’ blood. In November 2017 and May 2018, scientists collected blood samples from 344 people and analyzed them for over 20 different PFAS. Because GenX is short-lived in humans, it was not detected in blood. However, scientists found three new types of PFAS: Nafion byproduct 2, PFO4DoA, and PFO5DoA. They are  fluoroethers, a type of PFAS produced either directly or as a byproduct by Chemours.

So-called “legacy compounds,” those that were used for decades, including two that have been phased out, were also detected in blood at higher levels than in the general population: PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to myriad health problems, including high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancer, a depressed immune system, reproductive issues, fetal developmental disorders, low birth weight, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and more.

Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, a party to a consent order with DEQ and Chemours, issued a statement:

“Chemours used their ‘Good Neighbor” campaign to create a petition that tricked the community they poisoned into supporting the weak and unprotective first draft of the barrier wall permit claiming they are “…committed to improving the Cape Fear River.’ Once the permit was modified to do just that – improve the Cape Fear River – the people at the top in Chemours are once again proving that they’re actually committed to one thing — money.”


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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.