Chemours was so blatant in discharging GenX-related compounds from its Fayetteville Works plant that one of its disposal routes had a name: the Nafion Ditch.
Nafion, which is used to manufacture membranes, is the brand name for a compound in the family of perfluorinated chemicals related to GenX. According to a complaint filed by the NC Department of Environmental Quality in Bladen County Superior Court on Monday, Chemours allegedly knew GenX was potentially toxic but nonetheless lied to state environmental regulators about wastewater discharges containing it and other related compounds, including Nafion.
The complaint, an amendment to the original filed last September, was prompted by findings this week that Chemours was emitting nearly 40 times the amount of GenX-related compounds into the air than the company had originally disclosed. DEQ is asking the court to force Chemours to permanently stop all discharges of GenX and related compounds into the environment.
“It’s time for Chemours to own up to the level of contamination they have caused to the environment in and around their Fayetteville Works facility,” said DEQ Secretary Michael Regan in a prepared statement. “DEQ is using every tool available to require Chemours to clean up and stop further GenX contamination.”
Chemours has been illegally discharging GenX and related compounds into the Cape Fear River for decades, but has allegedly misled regulators about what and how it was dumping into waterways. For example, according to court documents, “for an unknown period of time” until late November 2017, Chemours had been discharging wastewater from containing PFAS (perfluorinated and polyfluorinated compounds) into the Nafion Ditch.
In 2015, following the detection of certain PFAS in the Cape Fear River, DEQ instructed Chemours to conduct supplemental groundwater sampling to determine what was causing the high levels in the Cape Fear River. The company’s groundwater sampling results showed an elevated concentration of one type of compound. But for two years, Chemours failed to provided DEQ with the full results that showed high levels of other types of GenX related compounds.
Groundwater tests on the plant’s property show concentrations in one well at 640,000 parts per trillion — or 64,000 times the state’s groundwater threshold. For man-made chemicals without maximum or interim standards, the state has set a threshold of 10 parts per trillion.
Other onsite wells had concentrations of GenX ranging from 42,000 ppt to 170,000 ppt. The groundwater contamination has spread, in part because of the discharge north of the plant into Willis Creek and south into the Georgia Branch, both tributaries of the Cape Fear River.
DEQ said it in its complaint that Chemours’ onsite wastewater treatment plant “has been ineffective at removing GenX compounds and other PFAS from the process wastewater discharged into the Cape Fear River through one of its outfalls. As a result, groundwater, surface water, soils, drinking water wells and rainwater have all been contaminated. Atmospheric deposition — the emission of GenX-related compounds through the air, which then mix with rain or damp soil — is responsible for some of the contamination. Direct discharge of wastewater is the other pollution source.
“DuPont and Chemours failed to timely disclose to DWR the discharge of GenX compounds and other PFAS into the Cape Fear River,” DEQ alleges in the complaint. “In particular, none of the DuPont or Chemours [discharge] permit applications referenced “GenX,” “GenX Compounds” … or any chemical name, formula, or CAS number that would identify any GenX or related compounds” in the discharge.
Instead, DEQ said that Chemours and DuPont provided information that Division of Water Resources staff to “reasonably believe that GenX was not being discharged into the Cape Fear.”
In asking for an injunction, DEQ and the state attorney general’s office aren’t required to show actual injury. Rather, it must show only that Chemours’ acts or practices adversely affect the public interest.