Law firm, DEQ at odds over Chemours, PFAS discharges under proposed permit

Chemours’s new PFAS treatment system proposed for Outfall 004 could discharge up to 60 times more GenX into the Cape Fear River than a separate system currently operating at Outfall 002. (Map: Chemours draft permit application to DEQ)

Chemours could discharge high amounts of PFAS into the Cape Fear River, even though the company has proven it can keep levels of the toxic material at a minimum, according to state records and a draft permit released by state regulators Friday.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is accepting public comments on the draft permit through May 2.

Chemours’s Fayetteville Works facility near the Bladen-Cumberland county line is responsible for decades of PFAS contamination in private and public drinking water supplies. Also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, PFAS have been linked to several types of cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid and reproductive issues, depressed immune systems and problems with fetal development.

Chemours already has a permit to operate one surface water treatment system onsite from what’s known as Old Outfall 002. That system has reduced levels of PFAS by 99%, as required by a consent order between the state and environmental advocates. Individual PFAS levels have decreased to just 2.3 parts per trillion for GenX. Additional reductions have brought levels of PFMOAA to 26.5 ppt, and 10 ppt for PMPA.

But Chemours’s new permit application for a groundwater treatment system contains thresholds 60 times higher than what’s allowed to flow from the surface water system. GenX could be discharged at 120 ppt; PFMOAA at 640 ppt, and PMPA at 130 ppt. Right now, contaminated groundwater flows into the Cape Fear without being treated.

For all monitored PFAS — more than three dozen — total levels could peak at 1,300 ppt. The new system would treated contaminated groundwater, stormwater runoff and surface water originating from seeps onsite. It is required by an addendum to the consent order.

“DEQ’s draft permit unnecessarily allows Chemours to dump high levels of PFAS into the Cape Fear River,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement. SELC sued Chemours and DEQ on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch to stop PFAS pollution.

“Technology installed as required by the consent order has nearly eliminated Chemours’ PFAS pollution from some parts of its site—DEQ must use that information to protect communities from PFAS contamination in Chemours’ proposed discharge. DEQ’s draft permit doesn’t provide that protection.”

However, DEQ noted that the draft permit has stringent requirements for Chemours to remove “at least 99% of PFAS contamination from groundwater, along with any surface water and stormwater,” captured by a nearly one-mile underground barrier wall and extraction well system.

PFAS-contaminated groundwater currently flows into the Cape Fear River without treatment from the Chemours site.

Neither the EPA nor DEQ regulate PFAS in drinking water. However, the NC Department of Health and Human Services has released a drinking water health goal, which isn’t legally enforceable — of 140 ppt for GenX.

EPA has released a drinking water health advisory of 70 ppt for the sum of PFOA and PFOS; DEQ has adopted that standard, and has recommended not drinking water that contains more than 10 ppt of any single compound.

Several states have implemented more stringent drinking water standards. Michigan has a legally enforceable maximum of just 8 ppt for PFOA.

The EPA is expected to release new, more stringent health advisory goals for GenX this spring. DEQ has stated it will adopt those goals and will incorporate them into Chemours’s permits.

Chemours previously discharged wastewater from its manufacturing processes into the Cape Fear; the state no longer allows that disposal method, so Chemours pays to transport the material offsite to facilities permitted to accept it.

Comment on Chemours 

Read the draft permit
Comment by email: [email protected] with Chemours noted in the subject line
By postal mail: Wastewater permitting, attn: Chemours permit, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-11617
Deadline: May 2

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