The state Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday it is taking steps to revoke Chemours' wastewater permit for discharging certain fluorinated chemical compounds, including GenX. The Dupont-affiliated company manufactures GenX for use in non-stick surfaces like Teflon.
DEQ will suspend the company's wastewater permit effective Nov. 30. It is also starting a 60-day revocation process, a move Chemours can appeal to North Carolina's Office of Administrating Hearings.
In June, it was revealed the company had been dumping the chemical compound into the Cape Fear River for more than 30 years, contaminating drinking water for more than 200,000 Wilmington-area residents. Airborne GenX and other unregulated fluorochemicals from the company's Fayetteville Works plant has also contaminated private wells near the facility.
"This investigation has gone on for several months and we have tried to work collaboratively with the company to get the actions necessary to protect the drinking water as well as the environment surrounding the facility over time and we just felt like it was an appropriate time to take this step," said Sheila Holman, Assistant Secretary for Environment and DEQ.
DEQ also faults Chemours for failing to notify the agency about an October 6th GenX spill at the plant that ended up in discharged wastewater, violating an agreement in June, and subsequent court order, to halt further discharge of the chemical.
"We've asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into whether criminal actions may have taken place as a result of the spill," Holmans said.
Chemours sees things differently. Responding to WUNC's request for comment, Chemours Spokesman Gary Cambre said in an email statement that suspension and revocation of the company's process wastewater discharge permit is unwarranted.
"The company has worked in good faith to cooperate fully with all of DEQ’s requests, including capturing all wastewater they have previously requested that we capture," Cambre wrote.
"While we do not believe there is a legal basis on which to suspend or revoke the permit, we will accept the [Division of Water Resources] invitation in its letter that we meet with them and look forward to discussing a path forward. We remain committed to operating this facility, which employs hundreds of North Carolina residents, in accordance with all applicable laws and in a manner that respects the environment and public health and safety.”
Chemours agreed in June to halt discharge of GenX and to capture the fluorinated compound and ship it to Texas for incineration. Assuming its wastewater permit were revoked, it could continue doing business in that fashion, disposing of fluorinated chemicals by shipping them off for incineration.
Residents in Wilmington and the Fayetteville area affected by the GenX contamination have applauded DEQ's decision, though Assistant Secretary Holman acknowledged some people might be frustrated that such action had not happened sooner.
"We have worked as quickly as possible to address the situation, not only for the lower Cape Fear but we have been working quickly to identify those private well owners near the facility that may have levels of GenX in their drinking water wells that is above the health goal and we're working diligently to try and find permanent water supply solutions for those customers," Holman said.
Little is known about the human health effects of GenX, though tests on animals show links to pancreatic, liver and testicular cancer. The state Department of Health and Human Services has set a health advisory goal of 140 parts per trillion. GenX levels in the Cape Fear – not to mention the wells near the plant – were much higher than that for the many years the chemical was being discharged unchecked.