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Conservation groups call DEQ’s proposed PFAS limits on Chemours inadequate

The chemical company is required to build a groundwater treatment system that would reduce PFAS flowing into the Cape Fear River by 99 percent. Conservation groups say the limits should be stronger.


Limits set in a draft permit that state regulators propose for the Chemours chemical company’s new groundwater treatment system are inadequate to keep “forever chemicals” from further polluting the Cape Fear River and public drinking water supplies, conservation groups say.

Under the draft permit, Chemours would be required to remove 99% of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances from its groundwater treatment system before they reach the Cape Fear River. 

That’s the same limits the state Department of Environmental Quality has set for PFAS contamination coming from other areas of the plant site, which is in Bladen County near the Cumberland County line.

And while the limits work well in those areas, nearly eliminating PFAS escaping from the plant site, stronger limits need to be imposed for the new groundwater treatment system, said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Groundwater at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works site contains extremely high concentrations of GenX and other forever chemicals, which earned their nickname because they don’t break down easily in the environment, if at all.

The groundwater now flows into the Cape Fear River untreated. In October 2020, Chemours entered into an addendum to a consent order that requires the company to build a mile-long barrier wall at the river, a groundwater extraction system and an onsite capture and treatment system for stormwater runoff. Those projects must be completed by March 2023.

But even with a 99% capture rate, the conservation groups argue, Chemours' new groundwater treatment system would still be allowed to discharge on a daily maximum average more than 120 parts per trillion of GenX, 640 parts per trillion of PFMOAA, and 130 ppt of PMPA. 

Those are only three of the most prevalent PFAS found at the plant. The conservation groups estimate that the total levels of all monitored PFAS allowed by the draft permit could total more than 1,300 parts per trillion a day. 

“The groundwater is so highly contaminated that even if it's 1% that's a significant concentration,” Gisler said, adding that those are only the most prevalent PFAS known to be getting into the river. “There are a lot that we haven't quantified so we don't really know what the full scope of PFAS there are.”

The DEQ’s Division of Water Resources is accepting comments on the proposed draft permit through May 2. The conservation groups let their thoughts about the permit be known in a statement.

“After all we have learned over the past five years, it is shocking that DEQ would draft a permit allowing Chemours to release any PFAS into the Cape Fear River, let alone at the levels allowable under this draft permit,” said Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch. “We need DEQ to do its job and protect us from Chemours' historic and consistent disregard for human health and the environment.”

The river downstream of Chemours is the drinking water source for an estimated quarter of a million people, including residents of Wilmington and Pender and Brunswick counties. GenX and other PFAS have been found in their treated drinking water at high levels.

Forever chemicals have also been found in private wells used for drinking water in Cumberland, Robeson, Sampson and Bladen counties. That contamination from Chemours, and DuPont before it, was blown with the wind and fell with the rain over decades. Well contamination has now been discovered 25 miles from the plant, in an area between the towns of Falcon and Wade in Cumberland County.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a revised toxicity level for GenX in the fall of 2021 and is expected to release a health advisory level in the spring of 2022. The new health advisory is likely to significantly reduce the existing North Carolina health advisory of 140 parts per trillion.

Under the consent order, Chemours is required to provide whole-home granular-activated carbon filtration systems to homes where GenX levels in well water exceed the current state health advisory. A significant reduction in the advisory could mean hundreds of more homes would qualify for whole-home filtration. 

GenX and other PFAS have been associated with kidney, prostate and testicular cancers, liver disease, high cholesterol, colitis, low birth weight, immune system disorders and other diseases.

A study by Consumer Reports that was updated this month found PFAS in fast-food and grocery store packaging. At least two fast-food conglomerates – the owners of Chick-fil-A and Burger King – announced last week that they will eliminate PFAS from their packaging.

Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at gregbarnes401@gmail.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, Cumberland County, Chemours, PFAS, GenX, groundwater