For state environmental officials, the latest spill by Chemours was the last straw. The NC Department of Environmental Quality had tried cajoling, cooperating, dangling the carrot instead of brandishing a big stick. But after Chemours covered up an Oct. 6 chemical spill at its Fayetteville Works plant, DEQ announced today that it is moving to permanently revoke the company’s wastewater discharge permit. The reasons, the agency said, were the failure to comply with the permit and to report the spill.
According to a news release issued at 4:20 p.m., DEQ officials also notified Chemours it will suspend its permit to discharge process wastewater from the company’s manufacturing area including the areas where GenX and other fluorinated compounds are produced. The suspension will take effect Nov. 30. Chemours is still required by the state to divert wastewater containing GenX and transport it out-of-state for disposal.
The revocation of Chemours’ permit will take effect after the required 60-day notice to Chemours and public participation in the permit process, which will include a comment period and a hearing.
DEQ is referring its probe of the Oct. 6 spill to the State Bureau of Investigation to determine if there is evidence of criminal violations for not reporting the spill as required by law. That spill, which released chemicals that are precursors to GenX, occurred during planned maintenance. State and federal officials learned of the spill only after the EPA’s routine sampling results show a huge spike — a nearly 100-fold increase — in contamination in the plant’s wastewater.
DEQ learned of the results on Nov. 1.
In addition, the company is legally required to notify DEQ within 24 hours of any spill that could compromise human health or the environment. Chemours failed to do so on Oct. 6, a Wednesday.
On Sept. 5, DEQ had sent a letter to Chemours about its previous illegal discharges. That correspondence teed up a partial consent order issued by a Bladen County judge in which DEQ agreed not to suspend the permit for a 60-day review period in exchange for Chemours’s compliance with all requirements, including halting all discharges of perfluorinated chemicals.
But Chemours, Linda Culpepper, DEQ’s interim director of the Division of Water Resources, pointed out in today’s letter, “misrepresentations and inadequate disclosures” have continued during the review period.
“It is unacceptable that Chemours has failed to disclose information required by law, information we need in order to protect the public,” said Michael S. Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality “We’re taking action to suspend Chemours’ wastewater permit and moving to permanently revoke it because the company has repeatedly failed to follow the law.”
DEQ will continue to collect and test water samples from the Cape Fear River including at the Chemours outfall.
Two other nearby companies, Kuraray and DuPont, are permitted to treat and discharge wastewater via Chemours’s system. The revocation does not apply to those companies.
Environmental advocates immediately released statements applauding the decision.
“People who are personally affected by the GenX crisis will be relieved to know that North Carolina’s environmental regulators will hold polluters accountable for their actions,” said Erin Carey, the NC Sierra Club’s Coastal Programs Coordinator.
Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network, called for additional funding for DEQ to monitor the state’s waterways, while agreeing the company’s permit must be suspended. “This is the right approach: no polluter is above the law, and dischargers have an obligation not to abuse the waters that support all of us.”