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EPA rescinds Chemours permit to import waste from Netherlands

On Sept. 20, 2022. Chemours held a public information session at Bladen Community College in Dublin, NC to discuss details about its proposed expansion at its Fayetteville facility.
Celeste Gracia
File photo from Sept. 20, 2022 when Chemours held a public information session at Bladen Community College in Dublin, North Carolina, to discuss details about its proposed expansion at its Fayetteville facility.

The Environmental Protection Agency has rescinded a permit that would have allowed chemical company Chemours to import approximately four million pounds of waste materials from the Netherlands to North Carolina over the next year.

The permit was originally approved in September. The EPA reversed course Wednesday. The waste materials were supposed to import to Chemours' Fayetteville Works facility.

"We're grateful that the EPA has corrected that decision," said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, an environmental advocacy organization based in Wilmington. "[But] the fact that the EPA had authorized that [permit] initially was a mistake. Our community was incredibly upset about it. The EPA is just correcting what was an existing mistake."

In a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, the EPA stated that Chemours provided inaccurate information to the Netherlands' government about the volume of materials being shipped.

"In addition to the inaccurate information it provided regarding these imports, Chemours has a history of dangerous PFAS releases, which raises concerns about the company's ability to take measures that fully protect public health and the environment," the letter continued.

Chemours is responsible for releasing harmful chemicals known as PFAS into the Cape Fear River, a source of drinking water for millions in North Carolina. The negative health impacts of PFAS are wide-reaching and still being discovered.

State environmental officials are considering an application from Chemours to expand existing operations at its facility in Fayetteville.

The EPA previously allowed Chemours to import waste material from the Netherlands from 2014 to 2018, according to reports by NC Newsline. The federal agency revoked Chemours' then existing permit in December 2018, saying officials needed "to review more current, detailed information concerning the wastes to be shipped and the management of the wastes."

In a statement released Wednesday, Chemours said it intended to recycle imported waste, adding that its recycling process is environmentally friendly.

"The Fayetteville operation that is used for recycling ... does not discharge to the Cape Fear River, meaning it does not impact communities downstream," Chemours said in a press release. "We identified and acknowledged a calculation error in the applications to the (Netherlands) that we proactively disclosed to U.S. regulators. We are working to correct the information and will continue engage with authorities on the path forward."

UN Officials Accuse Chemours of Human Rights Violations

This development comes a week after letters from the United Nations accusing Chemours of violating human rights were made public.

The letters come from a special group of independent human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The group sent five letters to different entities, including the United States government and Chemours.

In a September letter addressed to Chemours, the group raised concerns "regarding the human rights and environmental impacts" of discharging toxic PFAS into the local environment.

"We are especially concerned about Dupont and Chemours’ apparent disregard for the wellbeing of community members, who have been denied access to clean and safe water for decades," the letter stated. "We remain preoccupied that these actions infringe on community members’ right to life, right to health, right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment, and the right to clean water, among others."

The letter also raised concerns that "health and environmental regulators have fallen short" in their duty to protect and help the public. The group said enforcement and remediation measures taken by regulators have been inadequate.

In a response letter, Chemours said it has a strong commitment to the goals of corporate responsibility and sustainability, including an emphasis on reducing discharges of and exposure to PFAS chemicals.

"Chemours has taken a broad and unprecedented set of actions, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, to eliminate almost all PFAS discharges from Fayetteville Works," the letter stated. "Chemours has also made alternative sources of drinking water available to anyone whose private drinking water well (exceeds federal health advisory levels of PFAS)."

The United Nations became aware of Chemours' activities because Clean Cape Fear sent the agency a formal correspondence in April. Donovan said her organization is waiting for the U.N. to take further action.

"The ball is in the United Nations' court now," Donovan said. "It'll be interesting to see how ... (they) formulate and craft what should happen next."

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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