Chemours’s attorneys have accused the NC Department of Environmental Quality of disregarding “even the most basic rudiments of fair play and process,” when it required the company to stop discharging Nafion into the Cape Fear River.
In the letter dated Sept. 8, Chemours claimed DEQ didn’t have the authority to issue a cease-and-desist order over Nafion, which the agency and the EPA recently detected in the river as part of its GenX investigation. That order, issued on Sept 5, states that the agency will consider suspending the company’s wastewater discharge permit if it doesn’t stop discharging the compound.
Suspension of that permit would essentially shut down the plant.Chemours to @NCDEQ: Not playing fair Click To Tweet
Chemours contends there is no technical or scientific evidence that the discharges of “trace level” discharges of Nafion into waterways present a public health emergency — and that the order is not justified.
It is true that few publicly available health studies have been conducted on Nafion or GenX; state health officials were able to get just two — one of them proprietary — on GenX from the EPA.
But DuPont, the parent company of Chemours, has not always been forthcoming about the toxicity of its products. In the case of C8, a precursor and chemical cousin to GenX, DuPont discharged that compound into the Ohio River and other waterways in West Virginia, even though it had in-house health studies showing its toxicity to people.
Meanwhile, many people exposed to C8 developed cancer even though DuPont claimed it was safe. Only through a 2005 class-action lawsuit were those health studies revealed — studies key to DuPont losing the $343 million suit.
The Chemours letter also said that DEQ and the EPA have known the company has been discharging Nafion into surface waters since 2002; Chemours said it again disclosed that information in a scientific paper circulated to DEQ in 2015.
The letter did not contain supporting documents for the allegation. However, Chemours does have a history of providing information on some of its products to DEQ, albeit some documentation has been either incomplete or lacking context.
According to DEQ documents, DuPont met in August 2010 with agency staff to discuss its phase-out of C8 by 2015– a requirement of a federal consent order emanating from the class action suit. The replacement: GenX.
The compound is chemically very similar to C8.
“DuPont’s planned environmental exposure control technologies will reduce the potential for environmental release and exposure,” of GenX, DEQ minutes from the meeting read.
We now know that Chemours’s technologies to control the release of GenX either failed or were not implemented until this year.
Chemours’s attorney’s said the company stopped discharging GenX in June, “at a very substantial expense.” However, technically the company did not fully halt it until July. That’s when the company notified DEQ in-house monitoring showed higher than expected levels of GenX in its discharge. DEQ inspectors found other places in the plant that were responsible for the effluent; the company shut them down.Chemours claims it's acted in 'utmost good faith' w @NCDEQ Click To Tweet
And as NCPW reported yesterday, even though GenX is no longer entering the water from the Chemours plant, the compound is thought to be entering the air. Based on groundwater monitoring tests, DEQ believes GenX is turning into vapor at the plant, then falling back onto the soil, and in turn, into the groundwater. The agency is basing this theory on the fact that one of the plant’s groundwater monitoring wells tested high for GenX — even though it’s uphill from the facility.
DEQ has since issued a notice of violation to Chemours because levels of perfluorinated compounds exceeded state groundwater standards.
Issued last December, the facility’s air permit mentions the perfluoronated compound HFPO, although not GenX, specifically. (In scientific literature, GenX is signified by HFPO-DA.) Emissions of HFPO are supposed to be controlled to toxic air pollutant standards by the use of scrubbers. The emissions are monitored by Chemours, which reports its results to the state. It’s common practice for facilities to self-monitor and self-report.
DEQ Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman said the agency will begin independent air monitoring as soon as specialized equipment arrives.
The letter concludes by asking DEQ to “put aside litigation” and engage in “open transparent dialogue.”
It’s worth noting that Michael Johnson of Chemours was invited to answer questions at an Environmental Review Commission meeting earlier this month. At that meeting, Sen. Trudy Wade said that on advice of a company attorney, neither Johnson nor anyone from Chemours would attend. Both Michael Regan and Mandy Cohen, secretaries for the environment and health and humans services, respectively, did attend. Had Johnson showed up, he would have been seated next to them.