This is a developing story and will be updated.
The EPA has withdrawn its conditional consent for Chemours to export wastewater shipments containing GenX from its Dordrecht Works facility in the Netherlands to its Fayetteville, N.C., facility, the agency announced this afternoon.
In its application to the EPA, Chemours had overstated the amount of imported GenX wastewater it could handle at the Fayetteville Works plant. According to a Nov. 13 letter Chemours sent to the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality, “[t]here was an error in calculating the requested permitted volume that was not identified during the approval process,” and the amount provided was “not a correct estimation of actual volumes.”
New information from Chemours suggests that their import notice was for about 10 times more than the facility could actually process in the year which the notice covered.
Chemours acknowledged that the overestimate “was different by a factor of ten from the amount the company had initially quoted in its notification and which EPA had conditionally approved.”
“It is imperative that [the EPA] receives accurate information to inform our decisions,” the EPA wrote in its statement. “By Chemours’ own admission, the information it submitted in its notification was inaccurate,” an agency spokesman said in a statement via email. “Therefore, as EPA conditioned its prior consent on receiving accurate information from the company, EPA is withdrawing that consent.”
Chemours could not be immediately reached for comment.
As Newsline first reported in October, the EPA had authorized the company to ship as much as 4 million pounds of GenX-contaminated wastewater from Dordrecht to Fayetteville. The material would have arrived in 100 shipments via the Port of Wilmington to Fayetteville during the authorization period, which would have expired Sept. 7, 2024.
After Newsline reported the EPA’s authorization, public outcry compelled the agency and Chemours agreed to pause shipments of the material until at least Dec. 1.
Subsequently, Gov. Roy Cooper, many elected officials of both parties, 70 environmental groups asked the agency to reconsider. Last night a community letter with 1,100 signatures was sent to the EPA in opposition of the imports. On Nov. 20, the Cumberland County Commissioners also passed a resolution opposing the action.
“It’s good that the EPA reversed this decision and I’m grateful for their quick response,” Gov. Cooper said in a prepared statement after today’s announcement. “We have been working for years in North Carolina to force the cleanup of forever chemicals to help ensure clean water, and companies like Chemours have made this effort more difficult.”
EPA Administrator Michael Regan sent a letter to Gov. Cooper today about the agency’s withdrawal of the authorization. The governor appointed Regan to his previous post, DEQ Secretary.
“We appreciate that the EPA heard the concerns shared by the Governor and the residents directly affected by PFAS contamination from Chemours,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. “North Carolina is committed to reducing PFAS pollution and today’s reversal aligns with that goal.”
The Fayetteville Works plant would have recycled or reused the GenX, according to EPA documents. However, some of the GenX also could have been shipped offsite for incineration. That would have violated the terms of an international agreement stating that hazardous waste cannot be shipped overseas for disposal. (In the Nov. 13 letter to DEQ, Chemours underscored that all the imported material would be recycled and sent back to the Netherlands for reuse.)
The Fayetteville Works facility will only receive as much material at one time that it can process, about 22,000 to 37,000 pounds per month, the company told DEQ. The material received is stored in an enclosed building on the plant site.
Chemours has a history of providing inaccurate and incomplete information regarding its emissions and discharges of GenX and other types of PFAS, to both state and federal regulators.
In 2019, the EPA temporarily halted imports of GenX to North Carolina because of missing data in its application. The company lowballed its air emissions of GenX from the Fayetteville facility, as well as failed to report spills at the plant.
“In addition to the inaccurate information Chemours provided regarding these imports, it has a history of PFAS releases, which raises concerns about the company’s ability to take measures that fully protect public health and the environment,” the EPA statement said. “EPA will continue to work in close partnership with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, as well as maintain a constructive dialogue with the company, to use every available tool to protect people from dangerous PFAS chemicals.”
Environmental advocates were relieved about the EPA’s decision, but also asked the EPA and DEQ to do more.
“We are really proud of how quickly our community came together to oppose these shipments.” says Emily Donovan, cofounder of Clean Cape Fear. “We are grateful that EPA acknowledged its mistake and chose to do the right thing. We now encourage the EPA to designate GenX and other PFAS as hazardous substances which would permanently end shipments like these from crossing our borders.”
Geoff Gisler, program director at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that“Chemours cannot be trusted to import toxic chemicals after contaminating a significant portion of our state with GenX and other PFAS, including the drinking water for about 500,000 people. By withdrawing its consent for Chemours to import toxic GenX into our state, EPA listened to the concerns of the people of North Carolina.”
Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, wrote: “Chemours has proven for years they can’t be trusted, yet EPA approved this company to manage millions of pounds of PFAS waste and our state DEQ was apparently completely in the dark. … The right thing happened, but only after so much went wrong. EPA is doing the right thing in withdrawing this approval, but how many more years do we have to wait for them to do the right thing — the right way? This approval never should have happened.”
Timothy Whitehouse, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, issued a statement: “We welcome EPA’s reversal of its decision to allow the importation of toxic PFAS waste into the United States for reclamation and disposal. This whole fiasco must serve as a wake-up call for EPA to start putting the health and well-being of local communities above the economic interests of Chemours and other producers of toxic PFAS. Under no circumstances should EPA allow toxic PFAS waste into the country. The United States simply does not have the legal and regulatory mechanisms to protect the public from the devasting impacts of this waste.”