Chemours to take new steps to keep GenX out of Cape Fear River

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Chemours Company said in a news release Tuesday that it plans to remove all wastewater containing an unregulated toxin at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville beginning Wednesday.

According to the release, Chemours "will capture, remove, and safely dispose of wastewater that contains the byproduct GenX generated from fluoromonomers production at its manufacturing plant in Fayetteville."

Beginning in 1980, GenX, an unregulated toxin, was an unintended byproduct discharged into the Cape Fear River at Chemours' vinyl plant in Fayetteville. Chemours officials said they don't emit any GenX from the plant that is dedicated to producing the chemical and Tuesday's release is meant to "complement the abatement technology already put in place at the Fayetteville site in 2013."

The release went on to say that trace amounts of GenX found in the Cape Fear River have been "well below the health screening level announced by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on June 12, 2017, and the company continues to believe that emissions from its Fayetteville facility have not impacted the safety of drinking water.

"However, Chemours will take these additional steps, embracing its role as a significant employer and member of the community. The capture and removal of this wastewater will commence on June 21, 2017."

The Environmental Protection Agency said in an email Tuesday that it has initiated an investigation into Chemours' compliance with a 2009 order issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act for the production of GenX. This investigation will allow the EPA to determine whether Chemours is in compliance with requirements of the order to control releases to the environment at the Fayetteville facility.

EPA is also reviewing the additional toxicity data submitted by the company, as required under the consent order, and updating the risk assessment using the additional toxicity data specific to GenX.

At the request of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), the EPA has agreed to perform independent laboratory analysis for GenX in some of the water samples being collected by NCDEQ at 13 locations in the Cape Fear River over the next three weeks.

The NCDEQ expects the completed results to be back from the laboratory in Colorado within four weeks from when the samples are received and the EPA is working to determine a timeline for its analysis.

Michael Regan, the NCDEQ secretary, issued a statement after Chemours' announcement regarding GenX.

"Chemours' announcement today to capture, remove and safely dispose of the wastewater that contains the chemical compound known as GenX from the Cape Fear River is a step in the right direction," Regan said. "However, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services plan to continue to investigate this issue until we have answers to address the concerns of downstream water users.

"DEQ will move forward with its schedule for collecting and analyzing water samples from the Cape Fear River. We plan to collect samples for analysis in the Wilmington region Thursday and will continue collecting in both the Wilmington and Fayetteville regions throughout the next two weeks. DEQ and DHHS will report the results.

"We will also continue to push the Environmental Protection Agency to provide regulatory guidance on GenX, which is an unregulated contaminant."

Mike McGill, the president of WaterPIO, said in an email Chemours correctly responded to public pressure on this issue.

He is also hopeful that Tuesday's action is the first step toward full disclosure of what the company has possibly put in southeastern NC's drinking water.

"What happened today is the result of pressure being brought to bear from the press, politicians and the public to force the company to change their minds," McGill said. "Chemours needs to assure the entire region that they are meeting their newly discovered commitment to the Cape Fear River every single day. The same pressure placed on Chemours to get them to see the light about their discharge needs to continue so we can find out exactly what has happened over the last 37 years.

"Given the success that has been achieved over the last few days, I think we can all feel confident that pressure will continue, if not increase."

Copyright 2017 WECT. All rights reserved.