Chemours violated terms of consent order, DEQ cites company

This story has been updated with comments from Chemours.

Chemours’s wastewater treatment at its Fayetteville Works plant failed to adequately remove toxic PFAS — perfluorinated compounds — allowing contamination to enter the Cape Fear River, state regulators said today.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) identifying several instances when the design and operation of the plant in September, October, and November 2020 resulted in violations of a 2019 Consent Order.  The order required Chemours to implement a fully operational wastewater system that would remove 99% of the PFAS from contaminated stream waters flowing through an old outfall. The deadline for the system was Sept. 30, 2020.

Violations of the company’s wastewater discharge permit include exceeding an effluent limit, failure to meet flow requirements, improper operation and maintenance, and failure to mitigate during storm events.

Last October, levels of a type of perfluorinated compound, PFMOAA, in the discharge reached 1.2 parts per billion. The limit is 0.85 ppb.

The failure was partially caused by Chemours’s failure to fully change the activated carbon in its filters.

The company also failed to keep sediment out of the wastewater treatment system. The excessive sediment forced Chemours to shut down the treatment system on Nov. 11 and 12.

Nor did Chemours adequately maintain the structural integrity of the area surrounding the wastewater treatment plant. That allowed erosion and gullying of the slope upstream of the dam.

Chemours spokeswoman Lisa Randall wrote in an email that the company is reviewing the notice of violation from the state, “and will respond accordingly to their outlined request for information.”

Randall wrote that the wastewater treatment system “has experienced unordinary stresses, including excessive solids, since that time due to above average rainfall.”

According National Weather Service data for Fayetteville, September and October had below normal rainfall; the largest amount in one day fell in September, just 1.27 inches. November, though, was a very wet month, with a total rainfall 3.75 inches above average.

Chemours has already incorporated additional mitigation measures as a result of our learnings, and we are moving forward with treatment of the 002 stream, as well as addressing PFAS loading to the Cape Fear River, as approved by the state as part of our Consent Order and Consent Order Addendum..” Randall wrote.

“DEQ is committed to holding Chemours accountable, and ensuring they meet the requirements of the Consent Order and their permit conditions at all times,” said DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan, who is expected to soon join the EPA as its administrator. “DEQ will continue to take all appropriate actions, from increased oversight to enforcement, to ensure the company meets its obligations to prevent PFAS from entering the Cape Fear River.”

As of Dec. 18, 2020, inspections and data confirmed the treatment system at Old Outfall 002 is online and working as intended to remove PFAS from the contaminated stream channel before it reaches the Cape Fear River, DEQ said in a press release.

The NPDES permit is limited to treatment of the contaminated stream waters at Old Outfall 002.  Since 2017, Chemours has been and is still prohibited from discharging process wastewater.

Beth Markesino of Stop GenX in Our Water issued a statement: “The notice of violation from DEQ to Chemours dates back September 2020 and DEQ has waited until now to enforce the law. There are four separate violations:  exceeding an effluent limit, failure to meet flow requirements, improper operation and maintenance, and failure to mitigate during storm events. I believe that Chemours should receive a NOV per violation of the NPDES permit. DEQ and Chemours are currently under a consent order, and any notice of violation would violate this order leading to fines or pulling of Chemours permits. Our communities are tired of Chemours getting away with violating the law and polluting our river. We depend on DEQ to do what is rite and protect us. “

Earlier this month, DEQ issued an NOV for land-disturbance and stormwater violations related to the installation of the Seep C treatment system under the Consent Order.  DEQ previously issued an NOV for improper disposal of excavated soil during the construction of the treatment system at Old Outfall 002.

DEQ will evaluate the responses and additional information provided by Chemours in determining the civil penalties for all of the violations cited above, as well as the assessment of the stipulated penalties under the Consent Order.

Copies of the NOVs and other documents related to the Consent Order are available here:  https://deq.nc.gov/ChemoursConsentOrder.

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