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Chemours draft wastewater permit will allow for discharge of large amounts of pollutants, critics say

Sign outside Chemours' Fayetteville Works site
Vince Winkel

Some environmental advocates are criticizing a draft permit for a new groundwater treatment system for Chemours, a chemical company that has a manufacturing facility about 17 miles south of Fayetteville.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released the draft permit in late March.

The system will be part of a new plant the company is building near Fayetteville to treat contaminated water. The facility will discharge treated surface water, stormwater, and groundwater into the Cape Fear River.

The Delaware-based company is required to treat polluted water under a 2019 consent order. Some of the pollutants the company's N.C. plant has discharged over the years include GenX among other PFAS.

Environmental advocates argue the permit would allow the company to discharge large amounts of pollution when the company has the technology to discharge less.

“After all we have learned over the past five years, it is shocking that DEQ would draft a permit allowing Chemours to release any PFAS into the Cape Fear River, let alone at the levels allowable under this draft permit,” said Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, in a press release. “We need DEQ to do its job and protect us from Chemours' historic and consistent disregard for human health and the environment.”

In a statement, DEQ said the permit will require the company to reduce PFAS levels by 99%.

"The draft permit includes technology-based limits calculated from the data on the existing contaminated groundwater to ensure a minimum of 99% removal," the statement said. "The draft permit is consistent with the requirements agreed to in the 2020 Consent Order Addendum."

The company is currently operating another water treatment facility that opened in October 2020. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), reports show that plant has never discharged more than 2.3 parts per trillion (ppt) of GenX.

"What we see in that system is that if the technology is run properly, it eliminates essentially all PFAS," said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at SELC.

The draft permit for the new treatment facility would allow the company to discharge more than 120 ppt of GenX.

"The treatment system is capable of eliminating all detectable PFAS," said Gisler. "It's just a question of whether Chemours is required to operate it in a way that that happens or not."

Gisler acknowledged DEQ's assertation that the draft permit will reduce PFAS levels by 99%. However, he argued DEQ is meeting a minimum threshold that was put in place before treatment systems were developed.

"The problem with that approach is that it doesn't actually look at what the technology can do," Gisler said. "[The draft permit] allows significant discharges of PFAS that are entirely avoidable."

The draft permit is open for public comment until May 2.

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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