SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - A chemical spill at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works site in Bladen County Tuesday afternoon initially prompted area utilities to temporarily cease withdrawing raw water from the Cape Fear River.
By Wednesday afternoon, CFPUA and Brunswick County Public Utilities had both resumed normal operations after tests revealed no “abnormalities” in samples collected from river water near intake sites.
Both utilities will continue water-quality monitoring.
According to officials, around 30 gallons of a plasticizer leaked from Outfall 002 at Kuraray Americas, an industrial tenant at the Fayetteville Works site, and into the Cape Fear River around 2:30 p.m. A plant manager said the material contained no PFAS and that containment steps were taken to stop the spill.
“We found out yesterday that there was a spill at the Fayetteville Works site, about 55 miles upstream of our water intake of a compound or a chemical that we didn’t know much about. We were able to turn off our water intakes so we didn’t get the water into our system and work off of our stored water,” said CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner.
Flechtner said this type of activity was “unacceptable” for the companies operating out of the Fayetteville Works site.
“It is very frustrating. And the fact that they don’t give us a straight answer about what the chemical is, what the impacts are, how much has been spilled has been very difficult for us as a utility downstream to make sure we’re protecting our customers. So we go to great lengths then to turn off our water intakes, ask people to conserve water, while they try to clean it up upstream. And none of us should be in this position,” Flechtner said.
He also reiterated that CFPUA asked the state to shut down operations at the Fayetteville Works site 18 months ago, and 18 months later they were forced to deal with another event that threatened the drinking water.
Chemours released the following statement about the spill:
"On the afternoon of September 24, 2019, Chemours Fayetteville Works’ monitoring process discovered a non-PFAS substance that had entered the site’s water treatment system, and Chemours operators took immediate action to close the gates to the system outfall. Rapid testing was conducted and data determined that the substance was not a compound related to the Chemours manufacturing operations. Chemours immediately notified the appropriate authorities of the discovery.
Further investigation determined that the non-PFAS substance originated from Kuraray, a tenant located on the Fayetteville campus. Kuraray has shut down the associated process. Chemours has been in contact with Kuraray site management to ensure that the issue is corrected before the company resumes operations.
Chemours is committed to being a leading steward of the environment and operating to the highest standards for safety and emission control. We hold all site tenants and any contractors operating on our campus to the same high standard."
Chemours owns the Fayetteville Works site where the spill happened and the company shares the location with Kuraray and Dupont. Under a consent order signed earlier this year with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, no process water is allowed to be discharged from the site and into the Cape Fear River.
State environmental officials will remain at the site, conducting further sampling and investigating the extent of the spill and will direct the facilities to take further corrective actions as warranted.
The Cape Fear Riverkeeper says they are also closely monitoring the spill.
“We are definitely paying real close attention to it. I’m very anxious to get new information as it comes out," said Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette. “It points to another potential contaminant in our drinking water supply. I think it’s illustrative of why we need to have a lot of oversight over the companies discharging into our drinking water supply. A DEQ inspector caught this and that’s a good thing. We need to continue to focus on making sure our water supply is safe and making sure we are being really careful about companies like Chemours and others discharging into drinking supply.”
Asked if the site needs to be closed down, Burdette said, "If they can't control their pollution, that's a discussion that's worth having. There are repeated failures there and that's not going to be an acceptable way to operate."
Though Chemours has seen reductions in emissions following the consent order, the River Keeper believes there’s still work to be done.
“We are seeing dramatic reductions because of the consent order. That’s a significant step in the right direction. We’ve seen 93 percent reduction in air emissions. When it comes to water contamination, they have a long way to go and they need to aggressively go after those pollution control systems. Any company that can’t follow the law and meet the requirements of their permit, shouldn’t have a permit to operate,” said Burdette.
CFPUA and Brunswick County Utilities said they were alerted of the spill Tuesday evening by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The utilities estimated that the chemical spill could reach their raw water intakes as early as Wednesday morning.
Officials with the CFPUA said they will stop withdrawing water from the Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority intake at Kings Bluff in Bladen County for about six hours, starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday. CFPUA had stopped withdrawing water from its own intake at Kings Bluff late Tuesday.
Brunswick County Public Utilities said it has stopped withdrawing water through the raw water line entering the Northwest Water Treatment Plant to isolate and protect their water supply and prevent the substance’s plume from reaching the plant.
Pender County Utilities director Kenny Keel said the temporary shut down at the Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority would have minimal effect to the county’s water system.
CFPUA, in a Wednesday afternoon news release, said that initial sample testings showed nothing that would trigger concerns related to the spill and by 3:30 p.m., both utilities had resumed normal operations.