EPA Inspector General to probe agency’s handling of Chemours’ request to produce GenX

The EPA Inspector General is launching an investigation into how the agency evaluated Chemours’ 2009 request to produce GenX, including the company’s information on how it would discharge and dispose of the toxic compound.

According to a notice filed yesterday, the Inspector General is focused on determining “what actions the EPA took to verify compliance” with a consent order “to prevent release of the chemical GenX into the Cape Fear River Basin.”

Under the Toxic Releases Substance Act (TSCA), companies that intend to manufacture or import certain new chemical substances must file a pre-manufacture notice with the EPA. These substances include polymers, such as GenX.

A pre-manufacture notice must be submitted within at least 90 days before production of the chemical begins. Companies must provide detailed information about the chemical, its manufacturing process, the amount to be produced, its intended use, environmental releases, disposal practices, human exposures and available test data on toxicity to human health and the environment.

The EPA’s risk assessors are supposed to consider this information during the new chemicals review process, and to ensure they don’t present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment.

In 2008, DuPont – now Chemours – filed pre-manufacture notices under TSCA for GenX. The following year, the EPA and DuPont signed a consent order for the substances, according to the agency website. That order required health and environmental testing in animals, including that for reproductive effects and cancer, as well as possible harm to fish and birds.

It also included analysis of controlled worker exposures, proposed environmental releases, and the amount of impurities that could be present in the final product.

DuPont/Chemours conducted the required testing and provided it to the EPA. That data is now under review. The Inspector General did not provide a timeline for the investigation.

PFAS health study launches in seven states

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded $7 million in grants to study the relationship between PFAS-contaminated drinking water and health. Each award is worth $1 million.

The awardees include six universities, two state departments of health and two nonprofits:

Clean Cape Fear, a citizens’ group based in Wilmington, criticized the state and universities for not applying for one of the grants. “Residents in the Wilmington and Fayetteville areas will not be able to participate in one of the six national locations receiving these federal grants because no state agency, university, or research facility submitted an application on behalf of our communities,” said Emily Donovan, a co-founder of Clean Cape Fear.

“A quarter of a million residents downstream of DuPont/Chemours exposed us to dangerous levels of toxic PFAS for decades and our data will not be added to this nationwide study. It’s heartbreaking. Our participation in this study would have added valuable information to the nation’s understanding of human PFAS exposure.”

Donovan said DHHS should have overseen a statewide group, including public health officials and research institutions and nonprofits to submit multiple applications for this grant. Other states, like Massachusetts, did so.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services said “since this was a research study, DHHS encouraged its academic partners to apply.” DHHS is not a research organization, but does collect and publish public health data.

Jeffrey Warren, research director for the NC Policy Collaboratory, which has deployed dozens of academic researchers to study perfluorinated compounds, was on a CDC review team to evaluate some of the grant proposals. He said the states that received funding had long histories with PFAS contamination – longer than North Carolina’s – and also had collected extensive amounts of data. All of the grants he reviewed, Warren said, involved academic teams.

The CDC’s 55-page call for applications was clear in that the agency would require applicants to have access to large amounts of data.

Because the state has less data, Warren said, “I’m not sure North Carolina would have qualified.”

“The criticism is unfounded,” he said, adding that the university researchers in North Carolina have applied for grants totaling in the tens of millions of dollars to study the compounds.

FDA: GenX, 14 types of perfluorinated compounds found in produce grown within 10 miles of Chemours

Leafy greens collected at local farmers markets near Fayetteville contained elevated levels of GenX and other perfluorinated compounds, according to a recent FDA study.

The FDA shared the findings at an environmental conference in Finland, but not publicly in the US. The Environmental Defense Fund obtained photographs of the agency’s findings. The Environmental Working Group released them today.

Contacted by Policy Watch, an FDA spokesman shared the findings and said the agency is preparing to post the findings to a webpage. The FDA did not reply to a question as to why the results were not released earlier.

In October 2017, researchers tested for the presence of 16 PFAS in 91 food samples collected in the Mid-Atlantic region, including North Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.

In a related study, in 2018 the FDA sampled leafy greens grown within 10 miles of a PFAS production facility. GenX was detected at 200 parts per trillion in produce grown within 10 miles of Chemours, according to the study. There is no regulatory standard for GenX, although state health officials have set an advisory goal of 140 ppt in drinking water.

Fourteen other types of PFAS were also detected in the produce, including PFOA, which was phased out in 2015. Levels of PFBA, used to make photographic film, reached nearly 600 ppt. The cumulative concentration of PFAS in the produce ranged from 1 ppt to more than 1,100 ppt.

The FDA noted that the levels were not likely a human health concern, but that foods grown near PFAS sources should be monitored.

The greens were collected before state regulators required Chemours to control its air emissions at the Fayetteville plant. The compounds leaving the stacks, mixing with rainwater and humidity, then falling to the earth, contaminating groundwater, private drinking water wells and food miles away.

As part of a consent order between Chemours and the NC Department of Environmental Quality, the company is installing thermal oxidizers to eliminate the emissions initially by 92 percent, and then by 99 percent by the end of this year.

In food samples collected in other states, PFAS was detected in 14 of the 91 samples collected and examined by the FDA, including PFOS in almost half of the meat and seafood products, PFPeA in chocolate milk and high levels in chocolate cake with icing, PFBA in pineapple, and PFHxS in sweet potato.

PFAS are used in the manufacture of nonstick cookware, plastic packaging, water-resistant fabrics and other consumer goods. The compounds have been linked to thyroid, reproductive, kidney, liver and developmental disorders, as well as some cancers. They are widespread in the environment, contaminating groundwater, drinking water, lakes, rivers, soil, compost and food. Despite the health effects of PFAS, the EPA has failed to regulate them.

Newer studies suggest that “short-chain” PFAS, like GenX, may also pose a risk to human health.  To study the effects of certain short-chain PFAS and their effects on human health, the FDA said it is collaborating with other federal health and environmental agencies “to determine appropriate next steps for the authorizations for the use of short-chain PFAS in food packaging.”

Along with concerned citizens and other environmental and public health advocates, the Environmental Working Group is asking lawmakers and regulators to designate PFAS as hazardous substances, not just individually but as a class.

EWG is also calling for expanded monitoring for PFAS in food, air, water and humans; ending the use of the compounds in packaging, food handling equipment and cookware; ending sewage sludge applications on farm fields when PFAS has been detected; updating EPA’s “sludge rule” to require testing; and quickly establish clean up standards in tap water and groundwater.

Chemours, DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch hammer out final consent order on GenX, PFAS contamination

Pretty, but polluted with PFAS: The Cape Fear River (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

This is a developing story. Policy Watch has scheduled an interview with NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan later this afternoon. Look for additional coverage tomorrow.

After receiving 380 public comments on a proposed consent order with Chemours, state environmental regulators are asking a Bladen County judge to sign the final version of the document, which would put it into effect.

The consent order lays out several new requirements for Chemours to analyze monitor and report its emissions and discharges of GenX compounds and other per- and polyfluorinated compounds into the air and water, including the Cape Fear River. The document also requires the company to remove 99 percent of the contamination of the surface water and groundwater at an old outfall at the Fayetteville Works site.

Since drinking water has also been contaminated by GenX and PFAS emanating from the plant, Chemours is required to “provide effective systems to treat drinking water fountains and sinks in public buildings,” such as Gray’s Creek Elementary School. It also must “ensure that filtration systems are operating properly and are maintained for at least 20 years,” at the company’s expense.

Chemours has agreed to pay a $12 million penalty, plus $1 million in investigation costs.

Many people living near the Fayetteville Works facility as well as in Wilmington downstream, were unhappy with the draft consent order, including the comparatively small penalty amount for a company that generated $6.6 billion in revenue last year. They also were concerned that DuPont, which was the original polluter before it spun off Chemours, would escape liability. The final consent order clarifies that DuPont can be held liable for past offenses, and that it doesn’t insulate either company from third-party litigation. At least two lawsuits have been filed against the company, including one by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. CPFUA has asked to join fellow intervenor Cape Fear River Watch in the consent order, but so far that request is still pending.

Since November, when DEQ released the draft consent order the evening before Thanksgiving, the agency has incorporated some public feedback — 15 actions, total — into the final version. Now Chemours must notify downstream utilities of an “accelerated plan” to reduce PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River. DEQ says it will consult with the utilities before any plan is approved. (See document below for a full list of the additions.)

<a href=”https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5744802/Side-20by-20side.txt”>Side%20by%20side (Text)</a>

A draft air permit, currently up for public comment through Friday, would also be incorporated into the order. That requires Chemours to reduce GenX emissions by 99 percent and all PFAS by 99.99 percent by Dec. 31, 2019. The company is installing a $100 million thermal oxidizer and scrubber system to achieve those reductions. Over the past two months, Chemours has been scrutinized by the EPA for the company’s role in PFAS contamination. As Policy Watch reported in January, federal officials filed a temporary notice of objection to the company’s import of GenX compounds from its facility in Dordrecht, the Netherlands. And last week, the EPA cited the company with several notices of violation related to the reporting of PFAS discharges, emissions, imports and potential health effects of exposure. The EPA has yet to announce any financial penalty for those violations.

<a href=”https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5744803/UNSIGNED-20Final-20Revised-20Proposed-20Consent.txt”>UNSIGNED%20Final%20Revised%20Proposed%20Consent%20Order%20with%20attachments (Text)</a>

Residents skeptical of Chemours’ proposed air permit; comment by Feb. 22.

PFAS, including GenX, flow from the plant vents into a thermal oxidizer, which uses heat to break apart the compounds. Those dismantled compounds then flow into a scrubber equipped to clean them of 99.99 percent of contaminants before entering the air. (Schematic from DEQ website)


The public comment period for Chemours’ proposed air permit is Friday, Feb. 22, at 5 p.m. The documents for the proposed air permit are on the NC Department of Environmental Quality website. Email comments to  [email protected]. Please type “Chemours 18B” in the subject line.
Division of Air Quality Director Mike Abraczinskas is expected to rule on the permit in late March or early April.

Bruce Skinner was fresh out of high school when he hired on at DuPont, a good, steady job, especially for people without a college degree. In the 40 years Skinner worked there, DuPont — and then its spinoff company Chemours — discharged and emitted toxic per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFAS) including GenX, into the Cape Fear River, the soil, the air.

Although Skinner was never an engineer at DuPont, he nonetheless knows how the plant operates, and his comments to state environmental regulators at a public hearing in Bladen County on Monday presented valuable information that an insider would know. The hearing concerned a proposed air permit for the Fayetteville Works plant that, among other mandates, would require Chemours to reduce its emissions of GenX and all PFAS by 99.99 percent — to just 23 pounds per year — by Dec. 31. These reductions, state regulators say, will break the contamination link between air and groundwater.

The fox is in the henhouse Click To Tweet

“I believe in the technology. But it will be tough to achieve,” said Skinner, who lives a mile from the facility, which is near the Bladen-Cumberland county line. “The fox is in the henhouse. You’ve got to be on top of it.”

The 23-pound figure is calculated on the roughly 2,300 pounds of PFAS and GenX that Chemours pumped into the air in 2016. However, Chemours has often submitted inaccurate or late information to the state and federal regulators about what it’s discharging and emitting — and the amount. Originally, Chemours stated it had emitted only 66 pounds that year. In April 2018, the Division of Air Quality reviewed company data and found Chemours had not accounted for leaks, prompting regulators to revise the amount upward by more than 40 times.

As a result, DAQ notified Chemours it intended to modify the company’s air quality permit, and required Chemours to show it was complying with its current one. Facing court-ordered sanctions, including those for groundwater rule violations, Chemours then proposed installing the thermal oxidation and scrubber technology, which will cost roughly $100 million to implement. A proposed consent order filed in June 2018 required the company to achieve the 99.99 percent emissions reduction — the figure now in the proposed air permit.

The air emissions are important because when GenX compounds and other PFAS leave the stacks they can react with water — in the form of rain and humidity — which, when they fall to the earth, then contaminate the soil, surface water and groundwater. The private drinking water wells of dozens of households have been tainted with GenX because of the contaminated groundwater. Some of these homes are as far as seven miles from the plant.

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EPA cites Chemours with multiple notices of violation; company allegedly failed to provide key documents

The EPA today announced it has issued a Notice of Violation to Chemours for failing to comply, on multiple occasions, with federal law at the company’s plant in Fayetteville. According to EPA documents — some of them heavily redacted — obtained earlier today by Policy Watch, Chemours in Fayetteville failed to provide many key documents related to the import, processing, recycling/reclamation, and health and safety effects of GenX and other chemicals.

The EPA did not mention a financial penalty in the documents.

Chemours spokesperson Lisa Randall issued a statement about the EPA action, saying the company is aware of it and is “in the process of reviewing it to better understand the agency’s concerns. Once we fully understand the details of the notice, we will work with the agency on any additional steps that may be needed. It’s important to understand that the notice pertains to inspections done in 2017. We’ve already taken signifcant action to address PFAS emissions between 2017 and today.”

During a June 2017 inspection, EPA officials asked Chemours if the facility had imported any chemical substances in the last four years. According to EPA documents, “Chemours stated that all chemical import activities were controlled by corporate office. As a result Chemours did not provide any records on the import of substances associated with the facility.”

Chemours TSCA NOV CBI SANITIZED 021318 SIGNED (1) (Text)

Nearly months passed until  Jan. 4, 2018, when Chemours disclosed to EPA Region 4, which covers the Southeast, that it imported GenX compounds. Three weeks later, the EPA requested Chemours provide dates the GenX compounds were recycled and the method; the origin and disposal sites of the waste; the amount released each day, and where any emissions occurred.

As Policy Watch reported last month, in mid-December 2018, the EPA filed a Temporary of Notice of Objection to further imports and exports of GenX compounds to the Netherlands. A Chemours spokesperson said at the time that the company had been importing and exporting the material for five years.

Chemours failed to provide the EPA  with a “pre-manufacture notice,” which also covers imports, of certain new chemical compounds within the legally required 90 days before the production or importation began.

Chemours in Fayetteville transports GenX compounds to New Jersey and West Virginia, and exports them to the Netherlands, Japan, China and India.

A shipping manifest obtained by Policy Watch shows the Chemours plant in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, exports GenX compounds through a Belgian port, to the Port of Liverpool in England, and then onto Wilmington, NC. From there it is transported to Fayetteville.

EPA officials raised other questions during the 2017 inspection in Fayetteville. The agency asked about any documentation Chemours had detailing possible adverse health effects and reactions to the chemicals used at the plant. The EPA also asked for a list of health studies, as well as any known health and safety information.

“At the time of the inspection, Chemours indicated they had no such records and they would check with their corporate office in Delaware,” the EPA documents read. “No records were provided.”

Chemours did not submit required notifications for “significant new use” of certain chemicals. (The names of some chemicals were redacted because they are considered Confidential Business Information.)

The EPA also requires a GenX to be used in a closed loop, with no discharges to the environment. However, Chemours did release the compounds into the groundwater, surface water and air — and had been since 1980.

Under pressure from state regulators and environmental advocates, Chemours is investing $100 million in state-of-the-art emission control technology at our Fayetteville site to achieve 99% reduction in PFAS air and water emissions by the end of 2019.

A public hearing on the technology, known as a thermal oxidizer/scrubber, is scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Bladen County Community College Auditorium, 7418 NC Hwy 41 West, in Dublin.

TSCA NON CBI R3 Chemours Inspection Report (Text)

Chemours R4 Sanitized Report (1) (Text)