Chemours blew deadline to build an underground wall to keep GenX out of Cape Fear River, but gets two-month extension

This illustration shows how an underground wall, a mile long and 60 to 80 feet deep, will keep PFAS from flowing into the Cape Fear River from the Chemours plant.

(Illustration DEQ)

Chemours missed a key deadline in building a subsurface wall at its Fayetteville Works plant that would prevent GenX and other types of toxic PFAS from entering the Cape Fear River, state documents show.

The barrier wall, more than a mile long and 60 to 80 feet deep, was supposed to be complete by March 15, according to a consent order between the company, the NC Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch.

Now the wall won’t be completed until late April or in May.

Until then, contaminated groundwater from the plant on the Bladen-Cumberland county line flows untreated directly into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people downstream. 

“The communities downstream from Chemours’s facility have suffered too long and the company’s delay is unacceptable,” said Geoff Gisler, attorney and program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “DEQ unfortunately agreed to forgive the delay before the public had any opportunity for involvement.”

The SELC represented Cape Fear River Watch in negotiating the 2019 consent order. Chemours has breached its terms several times, racking up $500,000 in fines related to water quality and air quality violations.

PFAS is short for per-  and polyfluoroalkyl substances, of which there are at least 10,000 types. All PFAS, including GenX, that independent scientists have studied so far have been found to be toxic to human health and the environment. They’ve been linked to thyroid disorders, kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, a depressed immune system, low birth weight and reproductive problems. Scientists have also found GenX exposure can impair liver function.

In its response to Chemours, DEQ determined that the delays are consistent with the timeline laid out in the consent order, as long as the project is completed no later than May 31. DEQ did not publicly announce its decision, which was buried in the agency’s system of hundreds of thousands of public documents.

Chemours attributed the delays to several factors, including “two significant mechanical breakdowns in trenching equipment,” according to a March 1 letter from the company to DEQ. Now that the problems have been fixed, Chemours’s contractor has added workers and adjusted its scheduling, the company wrote.

The wall, along with a groundwater extraction and treatment system, is designed to capture 99.9% of PFAS contamination. The groundwater system was installed on schedule.

The revised timetable is still allowed under the consent order and its addendum, based on several unforeseen issues, Chemours wrote, including supply chain problems related to the pandemic.

It also took longer than projected for DEQ to approve the wall design – which Chemours had to reconfigure – and to issue water discharge permits.

“Although Chemours places blame squarely on DEQ, the company’s challenge to the final permit for the treatment system contributed to that delay,” Gisler said.

DEQ issued the permit in September 2022, which required Chemours to nearly eliminate the discharge of GenX and two other compounds, PMPA and PFMOAA into the river. Chemours challenged the discharge permit in court, claiming it couldn’t guarantee the system would remove PMPA and PFMOAA at that level until the system was finished and began operating.

(Just weeks before Chemours took DEQ to court over the permit, the company announced it would expand its Fayetteville Works plant.)

DEQ and Chemours settled out of court in November 2022. The permit limits remain the same, but they don’t take effect until six months after the treatment system begins operating. During this “optimization period,” Chemours must provide DEQ monthly reports that show how well the system is working.

If Chemours can demonstrate that the limits for PMPA and PFMOAA aren’t technologically feasible, it can submit an application to DEQ to modify the permit.

A photo of Geoff Gisler, program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center

Geoff Gisler, program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center (Photo: SELC)

Downstream, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in Wilmington is spending millions of dollars to remove PFAS from the drinking water.
“We were disappointed to learn Chemours wasn’t able to meet the March 15 deadline to complete the barrier wall,” said utility spokesman Vaughn Hagerty. “We don’t recall hearing mention of this in any of Chemours’ TV ads about the wall, but maybe we missed something.”
Hagerty is referring to the company’s “good neighbors care” ad campaign in the Wilmington TV market. While the company fights the EPA, DEQ over health advisory goals and permit limits, its ads proclaim: “Our quality of life and environment must be protected.”
CFPUA’s new granular activated carbon filters have been effectively treating for Chemours’ PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River since October 2022, Hagerty said. Ratepayers bore the $43 million cost to build the new filters. Operating them is estimated to cost $3.7 million this fiscal year and $5 million in subsequent years, Hagerty said.
“Those operating costs depend in large part on the levels of Chemours’ PFAS we are seeing in our source water. The barrier wall is supposed to be a key component of Chemours’ obligations under the Consent Order to reduce the amount of PFAS it is sending to the river. We and our ratepayers are anxious to see Chemours meet those obligations.”


DOT allegedly failed to set targets to reduce driving, required as part of settlement over Wake County toll road

A photo of construction for the Complete 540 toll road. Trees have been cleared, and there are piles of dirt and mud.

Sections of the Complete 540 toll road are under construction in southern Wake County. This is a portion near Apex of Rhodes Road, at the edge of the Blue Skies mobile home park. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)


The state Department of Transportation has not met its obligations under an historic settlement agreement over the Complete 540 toll road, according to a letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The letter to DOT, dated March 17, alleges the agency has failed to set targets to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled – known as VMTs – per North Carolina licensed driver. Those targets were supposed to be in place once the results of a VMT reduction study were distributed, which occurred two years ago. SELC asks the agency to issue the VMT targets no later than June 30.

The transportation sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, a major driver of climate change, in North Carolina. More than a year ago, Gov. Cooper issued Executive Order 246, establishing goals to reduce transportation-related emissions. The goals included an increase in the number of electric vehicles, publication of a greenhouse gas inventory every two years, and the development of a Clean Transportation Plan. 

In turn, the Clean Transportation Plan calls for reducing VMTs with more robust public transit systems, among other strategies.

However, the Complete 540 project is not designed to reduce the number of VMTs; it could actually increase them in rapidly growing southern Wake County. In turn, it could be more difficult for North Carolina to meet its climate goals as laid out in the executive order.

This map shows the Complete 540 toll road that starts near Holly Springs in southwestern Wake County and travels in a loop around southern Wake County before ending near Knightdale at U.S. 64.

When finished, the $2.2 billion project will connect with the existing tollway near Highway 55 in Apex, then route 28 miles through southern Wake County before joining I-440 and U.S. 64 near Knightdale.

In 2019, SELC, representing Sound Rivers, CleanAIRE NC and the Center for Biological Diversity, sued DOT and several other state and federal agencies over the project.

The settlement agreement contained many environmental protections, worth $10 million, including the requirement that DOT explore ways to reduce the number of VMTs.

Logen Hodges, director of marketing and communications for DOT’s Turnpike Authority, told Policy Watch in an emailed statement that the agency “has fulfilled or will fulfill all the items agreed to” as part of the agreement. Of the 27 items agreed to, seven are complete, two are not possible until after construction and 18 are underway, Hodges said.

The VMT Reduction Toolkit has been developed and is available online. However, DOT has yet to set the VMT reduction targets. The agency “continues to collect sufficient data necessary” to do so, Hodges wrote.

A photo of Rhodes Road and signs that say "Road Closed" with a mobile home in the background. The Blue Skies Mobile Home Park has been cut off to the south by the Complete 540 toll road.

Rhodes Road near Apex has been bisected by the Complete 540 toll road, cutting off the Blue Skies Mobile Home Park from access to the south. Some properties are within 20 feet from the edge of a precipice to the construction site. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

In response, SELC Litigation Director Kym Meyer wrote that “we cannot possibly imagine what is meant by ‘NCDOT continues to collect sufficient data necessary to set targets for VMT reduction.'”

The settlement agreement, Meyer wrote, specifically requires those targets to be set already. Yet they are not included in the Clean Transportation Plan, released earlier this year.

Meyer applauded the VMT reduction tool kit, but added that “we are disappointed in how little work has been done to share it” with metropolitan planning organizations “or to work with communities to implement the strategies.”

A VMT task force has met eight times. But Meyer, who attended those meetings, said that at none of them “did it feel like meaningful progress was being made, or even expected. … will continue to meet and look forward to participating and executing actions that force actual change.”

“We have yet to see any progress,” Meyer added, “and we are running out of time.”

This is a map showing where construction of the Complete 540 toll road is occurring in southern Wake County.

The photos of the neighborhood are represented by the rectangle, where construction is occurring. (Map: DOT)

Neighbors of abandoned Wake Forest golf course want to know what chemicals are in the soil

Photo of an empty outdoor swimming pool that is covered with graffiti. It is part of the former Wake Forest Country Club and Golf Course.

The swimming pool at the former Wake Forest Golf Course & Country Club, which closed in 2007. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Nature — and spray paint — are reclaiming the old Wake Forest Golf Course & Country Club. The 160-acre tract off Capital Boulevard was once a destination for those who wanted to conquer a difficult course, including the first hole, a Par 5, that according to ForeTee, a golf course review website, “plays to a whopping 711 yards from the back tees.”

Now the club house is boarded up, its mint paint faded by the sun. The swimming pool is empty, serving as a concrete canvas for graffiti artists. Golf cart paths are overgrown and muddy, flanked by noble old trees. Turtles bask on logs in the ponds, where beavers have built their dams. The fairways are still mowed, though, and the property has become a de facto park for walkers, joggers and nature lovers.

The latest dispute about the property — and there have been many — involves the Wake Forest investment company, Millridge, which is asking town officials for a special use permit to convert 126 of the 160-plus acre site for houses and townhomes.

The Wake Forest Board of Commissioners is holding a special meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at town hall, 301 S. Brooks St., to discuss the issue and to take public comment.

But many neighbors are concerned that 40 years’ worth of pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and fertilizer applications could have contaminated the soil. When that dirt is excavated for homebuilding, residents are worried contaminants could enter the air.

Last summer, several neighbors collected three soil samples and paid for them to be analyzed by an accredited lab.

A photo of a dilapidated clubhouse at a former golf course. It is light green, and sprayed with graffiti. The windows are boarded up.

The former clubhouse is dilapidated, as are the nearby tennis courts and swimming pool. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

The tests detected arsenic and Chromium 6 in several samples. Both chemicals can naturally occur in soil in North Carolina. However, these same contaminants – known carcinogens – are also found in pesticides. 

One sample contained levels of arsenic eight times greater than a state benchmark. This is known as a preliminary residential cleanup goal, but they apply to known contaminated sites that are undergoing remediation — which the golf course is not. 

In two of the three samples, concentrations of Chromium 6 ranged from seven to 14 times higher than that goal.

Chlordane, a widely used pesticide that was banned by the EPA in 1988, was detected at very low levels. Read more

EPA asks for feedback on shipping waste to Sampson County, then admits it’s been doing just that — since 2017.

Sampson County Commission Thaddeus Godwin (front) is concerned about the effects of the landfill on the community. The Rev. Jimmy Melvin, with his hand raised, has long advocated for environmental protection in the county. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

The stench punched them in the face. People scurried across the parking lot of the Snow Hill Missionary Baptist Church, trying to escape the clammy miasma that had descended over the neighborhood.

“It’s the landfill,” neighbors told the newcomers. “Some days we can’t even sit on our front porch.”

The Sampson County landfill, operated by GFL, is the largest in the state. It ranks second in methane emissions in the U.S. and first in North Carolina for vinyl chloride. But most of the time, it just stinks.

On a recent Saturday, about 40 county residents had assembled at the church to hear from the EPA and the Greenfield Environmental Multistate Trust about plans to transport non-hazardous waste from a Superfund site in Brunswick County to the landfill.

Several years ago, the Multistate Trust was appointed by a federal bankruptcy court to clean up the former Kerr-McGee property in Navassa, where improper handling and burial of creosote has contaminated the soil, a swamp and groundwater, as deep as 90 feet.

Last year residents successfully thwarted the EPA’s proposal to ship 140 truckloads – 2,800 cubic yards – of contaminated soil from a less polluted portion of the property to Sampson County. 

Now the EPA, in concert with the Multistate Trust and with input from state regulators, wants to send 3 tons of other types of waste from Kerr-McGee to the landfill: railroad ties, personal protective equipment and silt fencing.

“We know how overburdened this county is,” said Claire Woods, director of Environmental Justice Policies and Programs at the Multistate Trust. “We want to minimize the impacts.”

Claire Woods of the Greenfield Multistate Trust (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

But moments later, residents realized for the first time that the impacts had already been inflicted on the neighborhood.

Woods and the EPA acknowledged that since 2017, 20 tons of PPE, debris, sampling waste, grout and mud have been shipped 68 miles to the Sampson County landfill – which accepted it. 

Anger erupted from every corner of the room.

“But you’re telling us about it today.”

“Let’s call a thing a thing, this is a minority neighborhood and we’re guinea pigs.” 

“We can’t breathe.”

“We need restrictions and rules. We don’t know what we’re smelling.”

The state is not required to notify residents of what’s entering the landfill, said Sherri White-Willamson, director of the NC Environmental Justice Community Action Network, which was instrumental in fighting last year’s soil disposal plan.

In 1982 and 1983, Sampson County Commissioners assured Snow Hill residents the landfill would be innocuous, resident Eddie Williams said.

History has proved otherwise. 

“The air is bad,” Williams said. “It hurts people.”

(CleanAIRE NC recently received a $500,000 grant from the EPA to work with EJCAN and to establish a network of air quality monitors.)

Danielle Koonce, who grew up in Sampson County, said residents should demand to know what’s entering the landfill. “Black and Brown communities are overburdened,” she said. 

Many private drinking water wells have also been contaminated with nitrates, arsenic, and total coliform – an indicator of fecal bacteria. However, the exact sources are unknown: Numerous unlined dumps, including one adjacent to the existing lined landfill; land application of treated sewage, the proliferation of enormous poultry and hog farms.

Koonce recalled that a county commissioner once told her that water issues “were part of living in the rural South.”

Someone chimed in: “And you’re Black.”

Gov. Cooper asks for 23% increase in DEQ budget to help cash-strapped agency

This photo shows the VinFast site, where the Vietnamese company plants to build an electric car and battery factory. Land clearing has caused sediment to enter a nearby stream, indicated by the red arrow. That's an environmental violation. There are too few inspectors at DEQ to watchdog every development. (Photo by Lisa Sorg via Southwings flight)

This photo shows the VinFast site, where the Vietnamese company plants to build an electric car and battery factory. Land clearing has caused sediment to enter a nearby stream, indicated by the red arrow. That’s an environmental violation. There are too few inspectors at DEQ to watchdog every development. (Photo by Lisa Sorg via Southwings flight)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is the Oliver Twist of state government, approaching the legislature, its empty bowl extended, and pleading: “Please sir, I want some more.”

Over the past 10 years state lawmakers have been notoriously stingy in its appropriations to the department. They have flaunted their distaste of environmental regulation, not only by introducing bills to hamper such efforts, but also by starving the agency, which has subsisted on the financial version of gruel.

Even as DEQ’s workload has increased, including a deluge of permit applications as the result of economic development and the PFAS drinking water crisis, the money has not kept pace. (The one bright spot was a $20 million appropriation for the Flood Resiliency Blueprint, which will provide communities with a tool to mitigate flood risks.)

Outside the abstract realm of budget spreadsheets, DEQ’s chronic fiscal crisis has unfurled in real life: Fewer staff, especially in the Division of Water Resources, which has 70 or so vacancies. Fewer inspections. Less frequent monitoring. A backlog of permit applications and renewals, as well as public records requests.

Since his first term began in 2017, Gov. Cooper has consistently proposed what is tantamount to a financial moonshot. He always recommends a dramatic increase –– this biennium 23% to 28% –– and the legislature always promptly ignores it.

That said, a budget is often considered a financial way to express an administration’s ethical priorities.

Gov. Cooper is proposing increasing state salaries across the board, including at DEQ, in hopes of attracting job-seekers to the public sector.

Here are more highlights of governor’s environmental budget:

  • $4 million to tackle emerging compounds, such as toxic PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water supplies. This will become even more important as the EPA finalizes its legally enforceable maximums for two types, PFOA and PFOS.
  • $392,000 to pay for mobile air quality monitoring. The mobile units would supplement the state’s diminished network of stationary ambient air monitors.
    In 2015, the legislature passed a law requiring DEQ to remove any ambient air monitors not required by federal law. As a result, the number plummeted, from 132 to 62.
    Goldsboro, for example, has no ambient air monitor. In mid-February, 1.8 million creosote-soaked railroad ties caught fire and burned for a week, but there was no DEQ monitor to measure air quality for extremely fine particulate matter, benzene and other potentially toxic pollutants.
  • $987,900 to complete the flood resiliency blueprint, due by the end of the year for the Neuse River Basin. The basin starts in east Durham, at Falls Lake, and runs southeast to Goldsboro and on to New Bern.
  • $237,000 for new hires to work on the dam safety program, such as inspections for high hazard dams;
  • Similarly, $3.1 million would go toward identifying high hazard dams that are at risk of overtopping.
  • $35 million would provide emergency grant funding grants for water and wastewater systems that the state has designated as “distressed.” These utilities often face financial or administrative challenges that jeopardize their ability to provide essential services.
    The state received $1.7 billion in American Rescue Plan funding but it’s already been obligated.
    Demand for this program is outpacing appropriations. For example, the state Water Infrastructure Authority recently awarded $316 million to distressed utilities for water and wastewater projects and studies. But the WIA received applications worth $562 million.

Doing the math

Gov. Cooper’s recommended budget for the Department of Environmental Quality


Base budget*                      $97.24 million

Suggested increase           $27.4 million

Recommended budget    $124.7 million

Increase                                28%

Additional full-time
equivalent positions           72

Total FTEs                       1,215



Base budget*                     $97.22 million

Suggested increase            $22.6 million

Recommended budget    $119.9 million

Increase                                23.3%

*This figure does not account for $191.8 million in fees, federal grants and other receipts that pay for specific programs, positions and services.