Since 2017, Wilmington and other surrounding areas have dealt with GenX and other PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substance) contamination of the Cape Fear River from manufacturer Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Plant. Since then, the company has paid $12 million in civil penalties. Additionally, more than $100 million has been invested into emission control technology that is supposedly able to destroy 99% of PFAS air emissions on site.
Updates to Existing Deal
North Carolina regulators and an environmental group were able to reach a tentative agreement with Chemours on how to handle the filtration of the remaining PFAS chemicals like GenX still present in the Cape Fear River.
According to an August 13, 2020, StarNews Online article, “Deal reached for Chemours to stop remaining GenX chemical pollution of Cape Fear River“, the new agreement specifically lays out the terms Chemours must meet, and the repercussions if those terms are not met:
‒ Install interim measures to capture 80% of the PFAS discharges from groundwater, surface waters, and stormwater. This is set to be in four stages, with deadlines in November, February, March, and April.
‒ Construct a permanent measure by March 15, 2023. This is to be a subsurface barrier wall approximately 1.5 miles long, plus equipment to remove at least 99% of the PFAS in the water.
The DEQ said penalties for failing to achieve these and other goals are:
‒ Up to $10,000 per day if the interim measures aren’t finished in time.
‒ $150,000 plus $20,000 per week if the barrier wall is not finished on time.
‒ $500,000 if the barrier wall fails to do its job during a demonstration test, plus $100,000 for each time if it fails follow-up tests.
Local Issues with New GenX Contamination Deal
However, not everyone is on the same page regarding the amendment. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, the main supplier of drinking water in the Cape Fear region, says they were not included in the negotiation process. According to the same news article mentioned previously, Executive Director Jim Fletchner of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority had the following to say:
It is disappointing that we and our customers have once again been excluded by the State from these discussions about a subject that is of vital interest to our community…
We have seen no evidence this or any of the steps proposed so far by Chemours will sufficiently improve water quality to the same level that the State has set as the standard for private well owners around Chemours’ site…
We continue to be frustrated that our customers continue to be treated differently than people near the plant.
Federal Issues with New GenX Contamination Deal
The administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, also expressed concerns regarding Chemours’ production of GenX. Wheeler suggested the plant switch production to a newer and less dangerous version of the PFAS chemical. A roundtable discussion of PFAS contamination in the lower Cape Fear region was held by the EPA. It included several local North Carolina officials and members of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, but was closed to the general public.
According to an August 25, 2020 article, “EPA administrator: Chemours should make newer, safer PFAS chemicals“, Wheeler said the EPA has taken the following steps regarding PFAS chemicals in relation to the Chemours’ Fayetteville Works plant:
The EPA in 2009 ordered Chemours’ predecessor at the Fayetteville Works plant, DuPont, to eliminate 99% of its PFAS discharges. But the EPA failed to send that order to its field staff — the people who would conduct inspections to ensure compliance. Wheeler said the EPA has changed its management practices to prevent such mistakes from happening again.
EPA researchers in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park are developing ways to track where the PFAS was manufactured. “That is cutting-edge science that we’re using (to) get a better idea of where the problems are and the extent that the problems migrated or contributed to problems around the country,” Wheeler said.
New kinds of PFAS may not be manufactured without permission from the EPA to ensure that it can be done safely for the environment and for people, Wheeler said.
We will continue to observe the GenX situation and deliver information on any new findings or resolutions. To learn more about the background and specifics of GenX, you can visit our law firm’s website pages:
- GenX Cancers Overview
- Summary of Information
- Timeline: GenX Contamination of the Cape Fear River
- Timeline: GenX Study Results
- GenX: Cancer Evaluation Form
Written by: Lauren Schwab, Legal Assistant
Law Offices of Thomas J. Lamb, P.A.