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

Ketanji Brown Jackson shines, micro-plastic worries for the Neuse, what to know about the new COVID-19 BA.2 variant: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. U.S. Senate winds up grueling Supreme Court hearings on Ketanji Brown Jackson nomination

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court

Representatives of the American Bar Association reiterated their finding that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is well qualified to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and law enforcement groups rebutted GOP accusations Jackson is soft on child pornographers during the final day of Jackson’s confirmation hearings Thursday.

Republicans, however, called in witnesses to continue hammering away at Jackson’s record, while the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee singled out Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ben Sasse of Nebraska for praise for not joining in attacks on Jackson. [Read more…]

Bonus content:

2. Tiny particles, huge environmental problem: Micro-plastics found not only in the sea but in the Neuse River Basin

3. Superintendent Catherine Truitt contends transgender swimmer had unfair advantage

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt has joined the roiling debate over whether female transgender athletes should be allowed to compete against cisgender women.

For Truitt, it’s a hard no.

At issue for the superintendent is transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’ recent domination of the NCAA women’s championship swimming competition. Thomas swims for the University of Pennsylvania.

Truitt said Olympian Emma Weyant, who swims for the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech University swimmer Reka Gyorgy, who represented her home country of Hungary in the 2016 Olympics, were “unfairly overshadowed”  by Thomas after working hard to compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics. [Read more…]

4. On an important anniversary, sound advice for North Carolina from a conservative Republican  (Commentary)

Sometimes, when discussing important topics of public policy, it’s useful to dispense with all the talk of data and budgets and legal fine print and get down to what really matters: the impact on human beings.

To his great credit, that’s what the former governor of Ohio, Republican John Kasich, did recently when he testified before a North Carolina legislative committee.

The subject of Kasich’s presentation was Medicaid, the American health insurance program for people of low income. This week marks the 12th anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act – a federal law that gave states the ability to expand eligibility for Medicaid to cover a broad swath of people with incomes too high to qualify under previous income thresholds and too low to afford insurance on the open market. [Read more…]

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily micro-podcasts:

Click here for the latest interviews and audio commentaries with Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Biden administration will auction 110,000 acres off NC coast for wind energy

The federal government will lease more than 110,000 acres south of Bald Head Island for offshore wind energy, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced today. The auction is scheduled for May 11.

If developed, the offshore wind project could generate least 1.3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power nearly 500,000 homes.

BOEM completed its environmental assessment this month and determined the project would not significantly impact the environment. Instead of a proposed meteorological tower, the plan now calls for buoys, which are less disruptive to the sea floor and coastal views. The installation of a tower also posed risks of accidental fuel spills.

The environmental assessment also includes stipulations to ensure leasing companies will “coordinate and communicate their activities with commercial and recreational fishermen.”

Numerous endangered and threatened species live in these waters. According to the environmental assessment, the project has new design criteria to reduce the risk to whales and sea turtles.

Separate environmental assessments would be required for offshore wind farm construction, as well as the installation of cable corridors that would connect the turbines to the shore. These assessments would analyze the effects on sea life and migratory birds.


Caswell County judge dismisses mining company lawsuit against residents, citing free speech

The site of the proposed asphalt plant at the Burlington North site (Google maps)

A Caswell County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Carolina Sunrock against opponents of a proposed mine and two asphalt plants, ruling that the defendants are engaging in constitutionally protected speech.

Last year Carolina Sunrock sued 58 residents who were petitioning Caswell County officials to stop the projects. The Thomas Holt Branch of the NC NAACP, Anita Foust and the Rev. Byron Shoffner are fighting a proposed asphalt plant, known as Burlington North, on the Alamance-Caswell County line; landowners near Prospect Hill are contesting a second asphalt plant and mine in the southern part of the county.

The judge’s ruling affects NAACP members, as well as Foust and Shoffner, who had asked the court to dismiss the suit.

Carolina Sunrock, based in Raleigh, plans to build an asphalt plant along Highway 62, in Anderson Township, a predominantly Black neighborhood. The NC Department of Environmental Quality initially denied the company’s air permit application, but approved revisions last fall. NAACP members are especially concerned about the health effects of harmful air emissions — particulate matter, as well as toxic air pollutants — on the neighborhood.

Carolina Sunrock has claimed that opponents’ persistent legal appeals were depriving the company of its “vested rights” to build these projects despite a county-wide moratorium that had been placed on polluting industries. A vested right allows a company to continue a use or complete a project as it was approved, despite subsequent changes to the ordinance.

However, Shoffner, Foust and the NAACP have not challenged the company’s vested rights; rather, they simply asked the county to reconsider the issuance of two local watershed permits.

Opponents have argued that the company’s litigation was a SLAPP suit — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — intended to quiet them and bypass the citizen appeal process. Most recently, opponents have petitioned the county watershed review board, which also must approve the projects. Opponents did not raise the issue of vested rights in their appeals.

Superior Court Judge Edwin Wilson did not use the words “SLAPP suit” in his ruling. However, he noted that if the court prohibited Foust, Shoffner and the NAACP from appealing to the county watershed board, it “will only serve to dissuade petition activity, which is constitutionally protected.”

“This lawsuit asks the court to prevent the NAACP from making legal arguments during a hearing which has not yet occurred, and may not occur at all,” Judge Wilson wrote.

Judge Wilson also wrote that Carolina Sunrock legal arguments were misdirected. County officials, not the concerned residents, would be the defendants in a vested rights case.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represented the defendants. “Caswell County residents stood firm for their First Amendment rights and pushed back against corporate strong-arm tactics to stifle their speech,” said Mitchell Brown, counsel for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

This order does not affect the defendants who chose to have the Superior Court determine the vested rights question. All defendants, including Foust, Shoffner and the NAACP, are still involved with the Watershed Review Board appeals hearing, which has been postponed until after the Superior Court case concludes.

This map shows the location of the proposed Carolina Sunrock mine in Prospect Hill. (Google maps)

Follow the money in two eye-opening audits, a community unites against a proposed mine, and NC turns the page on the pandemic: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

In this issue:

1. Yadkin County residents dig in for a fight against a proposed mine near homes, elementary school

4. PW special report: A program for Black doulas and Black mothers at UNC aims to improve maternal health and create a workforce pipeline

5. Governor: North Carolina is ready to ‘turn the page on the pandemic’

Focus shifts to personal responsibility, new indicators, federal funding

With cases of COVID-19 declining and the risk of transmission low across much of the state, Gov. Roy Cooper said North Carolina is ready to move to the next phase of the pandemic.

“It’s time to chart the new course. This virus will still be with us, but it won’t disrupt us,” Cooper said during a Thursday press conference.

The governor noted with vaccines, testing, treatment and other tools widely available the state will shift its focus to individual responsibility and preparedness. [Read more…]

7. An education free-for-all

NC’s complete lack of homeschooling oversight is a disservice to children and our state’s future

The idea of compulsory school attendance for children is not a new or radical one in modern society. The World Bank reports that, of the globe’s nearly 200 recognized nations, only a tiny handful fail to mandate school attendance.

At 12 years, the U.S. slightly exceeds the global average of 10 years’ required attendance, but there are several with even higher expectations. A number of Latin and Central American nations require anywhere from 13-15 years. In Germany and the Netherlands, it’s 13.[Read more…]

8. “Great states can do great things.” Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich preaches Medicaid expansion to NC legislators

In an afternoon full of recitations of numbers and policy details on states’ experiences with Medicaid expansion, former Ohio governor John Kasich told North Carolina legislators that getting health insurance to more people was just the right thing to do.

“What I would say to the fine members of the legislature in North Carolina, to the people in North Carolina, there’s a lot of people that need a lot of help,” said Kasich, a Republican who championed Medicaid expansion in Ohio. That state expanded Medicaid in 2014, opening the government insurance program to low-income adults without dependent children.

“We have to open our hearts to those people,” Kasich said. “That doesn’t mean that when we do that that we put ourselves on the road to bankruptcy. It means that we have good management. And at the same time to able to expand this program.” [Read more…]

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Micro-podcast Commentaries:

Click here to listen to the latest with Policy Watch director Rob Schofield.

10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon: