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Some North Carolinians outraged by proposed Chemours expansion

Cape Fear River Watch printed dozens of small flyers for local residents to use as protest against Chemours' expansion.
Celeste Gracia
Cape Fear River Watch printed dozens of small flyers for local residents to use as protest against Chemours' expansion.

Derrick Martin lives about two miles away from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility.

The 58-year-old veteran bought his home in 2003. He's worried that his pool may be full of PFAS, especially because it’s filled with well water.

"After years of taking it to the pool place to... balance the chemicals, they kept telling me 'there's something in your pool that's preventing you [from balancing] it' and they couldn't tell me what it was," Martin said. "All these years I’ve had the kids, the grandchildren, [and] the local neighbors swimming in this pool. I still have never had it tested. I’ve asked DuPont to test it and they said they don’t come out and test pools anymore.”

Chemours spun out of the company DuPontand has been its own organization since 2015.

Behind his pool and next to his driveway, an empty, rectangular area used to be Martin’s garden. He stopped gardening because he didn’t want to risk ingesting air or water pollution.

"We used to have about six boxes of raised gardens. We did tomatoes, green peppers, [and] squash... and you can see [there's] great sun and everything," Martin said, gesturing to the area. "We used to eat the vegetables. Nobody told us there was something wrong with growing out here.”

Martin said that after how much Chemours’ pollution has impacted him, he’s upset about the proposed expansion.

“I’m all for businesses," Martin said. "But, if they can not meet the state’s requirement... to begin with, before they start that expansion, I’m not in favor of it.”

Martin is referring to the 2019 consent order between the state department of environmental quality (DEQ), Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) and Chemours, which requires Chemours to reduce its emissions of PFAS and treat contaminated water, among several other remedial actions.

Most recently, DEQ approved a permit for Chemours to install a treatment system that will remove PFAS from groundwater before it enters the Cape Fear River. Currently, the contaminated groundwater flows untreated directly into the river.

Regardless, environmental advocates and local residents believe Chemours is not doing enough to clean up their pollution.

"The proposed expansion is malicious, greed-filled, ridiculous nonsense. It is basically the same thing that Chemours and its predecessor has done for 40 years, which is put profit over people [and] profit over the environment," said Dana Sargent, executive director of CFRW. "This company has the audacity to claim that [expanding would] be good for our community. It is offensive."

According to a press release, Chemours wants to increase production of PFA and specialized ionomer membranes because of two federal bills signed into law last month.

PFA is a chemical compound used to make semiconductors. Chemours is the only producer of PFA in the U.S. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 wants to increase domestic research and production of semiconductors.

Specialized ionomer membranes are used to produce renewable hydrogen. The Chemours Fayetteville Works site is the only facility in the country that manufactures these membranes. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 wants to increase domestic production of clean energy, including renewable hydrogen.

Dawn Hughes, plant manager at Fayetteville Works, said the proposed expansion will increase business opportunities locally and across the state.

"The expansion project will bring about 30 new jobs. So, about a 10-15% increase in the employment at our facility," Hughes said. "[Also], our key suppliers will come from communities across North Carolina.”

Hughes answered questions at a public information session Chemours held on Sept. 20 at Bladen Community College to discuss details about the expansion. Chemours also held a second public event on Sept. 21 in Brunswick County.

Hughes acknowledged the criticism that Chemours is facing. In response, she said the proposed expansion will not cause any new emissions. The facility plans to use efficient emissions control systems already in operation.

Last year, DEQ fined Chemours $300,000 for exceeding its GenX emission limit of 23 pounds per year. GenX is a type of PFAS. Since 2017, DEQ has issued at least seven notices of violations to Chemours for instances of noncompliance.

Hughes said Chemours is following all legal requirements under the consent order.

"We're going to continue the work that we have underway to reduce and eliminate PFAS emissions," Hughes said. "Day in and day out, we focus and strive on responsible manufacturing. We demonstrate that. And so, with our projects to expand, we're going to be implementing that same best available technology.”

Chemours plans to submit its application to expand to DEQ in October. After that, state officials will review it and allow for public comment. A permit decision could come sometime next year.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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