It was a big week for PFAS, although considering how widespread and durable they are in the environment, every week is big for industries’ estimated 4,700 perfluorinated compounds.
First, DEQ explained in more detail its proposed consent order, developed in conjunction with Cape Fear River Watch, against Chemours for its profligate discharge of PFAS, such as GenX, into the Cape Fear River. We’ve annotated the 40-page proposed consent order at this link and below. Click on any yellow box to read the context and analysis for that section.
DEQ announced the proposed order on Thanksgiving Eve at 7:30. Fortunately, Policy Watch was not baking pies, so had time to immediately summarize the key points.
The highlights include a $12 million penalty, plus $1 million in investigation costs, that DEQ assessed on the company for its decades of violations. It is the largest fine levied by DEQ for pollution at a single site. Under Gov. McCrory’s administration, the agency had fined Duke Energy $25 million after the 2014 coal ash disaster on the Dan River, but the amount was later reduced to $6.6 million. On a media call, DEQ officials declined to explain how they calculated the $12 million figure, because that information could be subject to attorney-client privilege. (But as Travis Fain of WRAL pointed out during the conference call, under these arrangements, clients, such as DEQ, can voluntarily discuss information, but not the attorneys.)
The company’s discharge permit, which had been up for renewal, is on ice, indefinitely.
In the proposed order, Chemours denies committing any violations, which is boilerplate language for these types of documents.
The proposed order resolves any past or current alleged violations, but as Assistant DEQ Secretary Sheila Holman said yesterday, the language “leaves the door open for future enforcement actions.”
Chemours must pay for alternate water supplies for affected households whose private wells tested above the state’s health goal of 140 parts per trillion: connection to a public water line, whole-house filtration systems, or under-sink reverse osmosis systems. For households that choose public water, Chemours is required to pay their water bills — up to $75 a month — for 20 years. “No one should be drinking water with PFAS above 10 parts per trillion,” Holman said.
The proposed consent order is open for public comment through Friday, Dec. 21. Submit comments electronically to email@example.com or mail them to Assistant Secretary’s office, re: Chemours Public Comments, 1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1601.