Environment

DEQ inspectors: Chemours failed to stop all discharges of GenX into Cape Fear

More than 300 Wilmington-area residents attended a panel discussion on GenX in June. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Three weeks after Chemours reportedly stopped discharging contaminated wastewater into the Cape Fear River, state environmental inspectors found GenX was still entering the water.

On June 27, the NC Department of Environmental Quality verified that Chemours had halted the discharge of contaminated wastewater, based on an onsite inspection of the Fayetteville facility. But this week, DEQ  sent inspectors to the plant after Chemours reported its water testing still showed levels of GenX in its discharge.

In a subsequent inspection this week, DEQ found contaminated wastewater coming from several areas at the plant. Since then, according to a DEQ press release, Chemours has shut down those areas of the facility until the wastewater can be collected and shipped offsite.

GenX is used in the manufacturing of Teflon and similar non-stick surfaces. It is in the family of PFOA chemicals (perfluoroctanoic acides), which are known to be endocrine disruptors and affect hormonal function. GenX is classified as an emerging contaminant by the EPA. These contaminants have not been independently tested for safety or toxicity; nor are they regulated.

In mid-June, Chemours, a spinoff company of DuPont, told state environmental regulators that it could not eliminate GenX-tainted discharge from the plant. But on June 21, after intense scrutiny from Wilmington residents and state environmental officials, the company suddenly reversed course and reportedly stopped discharging GenX into the Cape Fear River. Instead, the company sent the wastewater to its onsite treatment plant, then collected it in tanks and sent the material to an incinerator in Arkansas.

DEQ Communications Director Jamie Kritzer told NCPW that when state environmental officials visited the plant on June 21, they inspected the system where the company had told them it was redirecting the wastewater. When Chemours analyzed its sampling data, the levels of GenX “looked higher than what was expected,” Kritzer said, and contacted DEQ.

Kritzer said DEQ has no evidence that Chemours was trying to hide the existence of the additional discharge points.

Whether all of the discharge finally has been stemmed will be determined in future sampling. “The telling data is what we see in those results in coming weeks,” Kritzer said.

State environmental officials also announced this week that it had received the first round of sampling results from several independent labs. DEQ has conducted its own analysis and has sent the results to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is determining a health risk assessment. Those results could be posted on the DEQ website as early as today.

There is no federal standard for GenX in drinking water. The EPA has set a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for combined levels of GenX and similar substances. The international threshold is 90 parts per trillion.

 

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