State threatens legal action against Chemours

SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - State officials have ordered Chemours to stop releasing all fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River and comply with the state's other demands or face legal action and suspension of its permit for discharging wastewater into the river.

A letter from the NC Department of Environmental Quality to Chemours and a civil court summons, filed by the NC Attorney General's Office on Tuesday in Bladen County Superior Court, demand Chemours stop its discharge of all fluorinated compounds and disclose everything in its waste stream, according to state officials.

"DEQ has reasonable cause to believe that Chemours has violated or is threatening to violate provisions" of state law and "[t]herefore, has directed the Attorney General's Office to institute a civil action for injunctive relief to restrain the violation or threatened violation of the law," state attorneys said in a letter from the NC Attorney General's Office to Chemours.

In DEQ's letter to Chemours, also sent on Tuesday, the state agency said it intends to suspend the company's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which allows the company to discharge wastewater in the Cape Fear River.

"There is sufficient cause to suspend the permit under the provisions cited in this letter. We have found no evidence in the permit file indicating that Chemours or DuPont (Chemours' predecessor) disclosed the discharge to surface water of GenX compounds at the Fayetteville Works," said S. Jay Zimmerman, director of the Division of Water Resources. "In particular, the NPDES permit renewal applications submitted to DWR (Division of Water Resources) contain no reference to "GenX" or to any chemical name, formula, or CAS number that would identify any GenX compounds in the discharge."

The letter also requests Chemours meet earlier demands, including stopping the discharge of the Nafion byproducts -- two compounds the Environmental Protection Agency said were also detected in the company's wastewater, and had not showed a downward trend in concentration as GenX and other structurally similar chemicals have.

"Protecting people's drinking water is our top priority, and we've put Chemours on notice that it must stop discharging these chemicals into the Cape Fear River immediately," said Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. "Chemours must stop releasing all fluorinated compounds and fully disclose all chemicals in its waste stream, and we're taking action to make sure that happens."

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said on Tuesday night he was glad the state was finally taking action.

"They were polluting the river," Saffo said of Chemours. "They knew what they were doing, and I was glad to see the DEQ take action today. It is about time, and I appreciate it on behalf of all the citizens in our community."

Saffo added he hopes the threat of legal action will bring statewide changes.

"I think this is a much more important health issue for the entire state," he said. "Not just for southeasten North Carolina, but all of the rivers in the state of North Carolina also have contaminants in them that we don't know what they do to our bodies. We don't know where they are coming from. We need to make sure that we are monitoring our rivers, make sure that we have clean drinking water for our community and for our children."

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority said in an email that it supports the state's action, calling the order "a positive step."

"It is unfortunate that it takes legal action for Chemours to fully disclose what, and how much, it discharges to the Cape Fear River," the CFPUA statement read. "It is vital that water providers and their customers have access to information about the quality of their source waters. CFPUA is pleased that NCDEQ has taken this affirmative action."

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