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State fines Chemours $13M, requires chemical company to provide drinking water

This 2017 photo shows the Fayetteville Works plant near Fayetteville. Delaware-based Chemours Co. has been sued over an unregulated chemical with unknown health risks that flowed from the company’s plant near Fayetteville into the Cape Fear River.
This 2017 photo shows the Fayetteville Works plant near Fayetteville. Delaware-based Chemours Co. has been sued over an unregulated chemical with unknown health risks that flowed from the company’s plant near Fayetteville into the Cape Fear River. AP

North Carolina environmental officials announced a plan Wednesday to fine Chemours $13 million and require the chemical company to provide permanent replacement drinking water.

The proposed plan or, “consent order,” between the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Cape Fear River Watch and the chemical company is intended as a resolution after contaminants from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville were discharged into local water supplies.

The order requires Chemours to dramatically reduce its GenX air emissions, provide replacement drinking water and pay the fine to the DEQ.

Wilmington, Delaware-based Chemours Co. has faced questions for years about GenX, an unregulated chemical with unknown health risks, among other contaminants, that flowed from the company’s plant near Fayetteville into the Cape Fear River.

“People deserve access to clean drinking water and this order is a significant step in our ongoing effort to protect North Carolina communities and the environment,” DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “Today’s announcement advances the science and regulation of PFAS compounds and gives North Carolina families much-needed relief. I appreciate the hard work of DEQ’s dedicated and talented staff to help achieve this result.”

Under the order, Chemours must pay a $12 million civil penalty along with an additional $1 million “for investigative costs,” the state’s release said.

The chemical company could end up paying more if it fails to meet conditions and deadlines established in the proposed order.

Among many requirements, the order states Chemours must:

Provide permanent drinking water “in the form of either a public waterline connection or whole-building filtration systems for those with drinking water wells with GenX” above a certain level;

“Provide, install and maintain” special drinking water systems for well owners with combined polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) amounts above a certain level;

“Reduce air emissions of GenX through control technology and with a schedule of reduction milestones;”

Continue to capture all its wastewater for off-site disposal;

“Conduct health studies to determine potential health risks associated with releasing PFAS into the environment’”

Sample and retest drinking water wells in areas with elevated chemical contaminants linked to the company;

Submit and implement a plan to sample all wastewater and stormwater streams to identify any additional contaminants;

Submit a plan to the state to reduce chemical contaminants in groundwater along the Cape Fear River “by at least 75 percent;”

“Notify and coordinate with downstream public water utilities” when there is the potential for a discharge of contaminants such as GenX into the Cape Fear River above healthy levels.

The Southern Environmental Law Center signed the proposed order on behalf of the Cape Fear River Watch and said the fine would be the largest “ever levied by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.”

“This agreement starts us down the path to a cleaner Cape Fear and safer drinking water by keeping Chemours’ air pollution and contaminated water from leaving its site,” Geoff Gisler, senior attorney for the SELC, who represents the Cape Fear River Watch in the case said in an emailed statement to The News & Observer Wednesday evening. “After decades of unchecked pollution from the Chemours’ facility, this order is a step forward in restoring the Cape Fear and protecting communities and families downstream.”

If the proposed order is accepted by the court after a 30-day public comment period, the order will resolve the NCDEQ’s pending lawsuit against the chemical company for violating North Carolina water quality laws.

Cape Fear River Watch also agreed to dismiss its federal lawsuit against Chemours for violating the Clean Water Act and Toxic Substances Control Act, the SELC said in a news release Wednesday.

The order would not, however, settle any other lawsuits against Chemours by citizens or water utilities in the state.

“Communities along the Cape Fear River have been terribly wronged by the contamination of our drinking water,” Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette said in an emailed statement to The News & Observer Wednesday. “We’ve been working to protect these communities since the news of Chemours pollution first broke. Today we can breathe a sigh of relief. Moving forward, we will be watching closely to ensure that Chemours does all that they have committed to do in this consent order.”

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