Environment

NC Attorney General Josh Stein launches investigation into Chemours, demands documents

Attorney General Josh Stein (Source: Facebook)

Environmental documents, research data, organizational charts, marketing materials: These are the thousands of pages of information that Chemours must provide to the state attorney general’s office, which launched a civil investigation into the company late yesterday.

The investigation focuses on the GenX, which Chemours has been discharging into the Cape Fear River from its Fayetteville plant. The probe extends beyond Chemours to its parent company, DuPont, and all corporate affiliates. State justice officials also demanded information about C8, a chemically similar predecessor to GenX.  Earlier this year, DuPont paid $670 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in Ohio and West Virginia over C8, which has been linked to cancer in humans.

Stein’s office also ordered Chemours — it markets itself as a “partner for safe and effective chemical solutions” — not to destroy any documents related to the investigation.

While the EPA is studying the safety of GenX, it is thus far an unregulated, “emerging” contaminant in drinking water. Both Gov. Roy Cooper and NC Department of Environmental Quality Michael Regan have asked the EPA for guidance in setting a maximum contaminant level for the chemical. An MCL, as it’s known, is legally enforceable.

After an NC State professor and two EPA scientists detected GenX in the Lower Cape Fear and in drinking water in Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover counties — including the City of Wilmington — state environmental officials “strongly encouraged” Chemours to stop its discharge.

In mid-June Chemours initially said it could not do that, but just days after state and federal authorities began sampling the Cape Fear River, the company found a way to shut down the discharge. However, in early July, the company reported that higher than expected levels of GenX were still being detected in its sampling. That’s when DEQ inspectors found other places in the plant that had continued to discharge the chemical. Chemours reportedly closed those areas of the plant.

State health officials have set a health risk goal — which is not legally enforceable — of 140 parts per trillion in drinking water. The state health department had originally established a goal of 70,000 ppt.

The drastic reduction in acceptable drinking water levels reflects the uncertainty and lack of information about the safety of GenX.

WECT TV in Wilmington reported that at the Sweeney water treatment plant levels of GenX, which had originally decreased after Chemours reportedly shut down its discharge, are still higher than the state’s recommendation.

On June 22, Sweeney, which is operated by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, reported levels of 726 to 1,100 parts per trillion. By July 6, the concentrations had dropped to 87 ppt. Those levels have increased since: From July 14-18, raw water entering the plant contained 114 to 336 ppt; treated water ranged from 113 to 286 ppt. It is difficult to eliminate GenX from water using traditional treatments. Reverse osmosis does remove most of it.

The Justice Department set a deadline of Monday, Aug. 21, at 10 a.m. for Chemours to provide the documents.

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