The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Chemours Fayetteville Works earlier this week agreed to end litigation over a required water filtration system that is supposed to significantly reduce chemicals leaching into the Cape Fear River.
The N.C. DEQ in September issued the discharge permit to Chemours for a treatment system to remove PFAS compounds from contaminated groundwater on the Chemours Fayetteville Works site. The site is along N.C. 87 at the Cumberland and Bladen County line.
The treatment system is part of a larger barrier wall under construction that is designed to reduce PFAS getting into the Cape Fear River and contaminating potential drinking water for communities downstream.
The DEQ’s Division of Water Resources issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration treatment system. However, after holding public hearings and gathering comments, and after further reviewing data and information contained in the permit record, DEQ changed the permit limits to more stringent removal requirements beyond the 99% required in a 2019 consent order.
A month later, Chemours appealed the DEQ ruling in a Bladen County administrative court. A statement by Chemours stated that it “regrets that we must file an appeal of the final NPDES Permit (NC0090042) issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources (NCDEQ) dated September 15, 2022, related to the water treatment system for our mile-long barrier wall designed to further reduce PFAS loading from groundwater into the Cape Fear River.”
Chemours stated that late changes to the permit as issued included future effluent limits that exceed the capabilities of the proposed treatment system. The increased chemical compound removal requirements would subject Chemours “to compliance uncertainty.”
“Chemours takes compliance with our permits and the commitments we make seriously; we are unable to agree to permit terms when we are uncertain if such commitments can be met or exceeded,’’ Chemours said in the statement. “We continue to pursue ambitious timelines to complete and start-up the system to reduce PFAS loading to the river. We are hopeful that we can work with NCDEQ to quickly resolve this matter to continue realizing the significant reductions we have been achieving.’’
Chemours said that for 15 months, it had worked with the DEQ on the design of the water treatment system for the mile-long barrier wall that is under construction and submitted its initial permit application for the system in June 2021. Based on the requirements agreed on under the consent order addendum with N.C. DEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, the water treatment system was designed to remove 99% of PFAS compounds associated with the site before the captured, treated water was discharged.
The nine-page agreement is signed by Dawn Hughes, Chemours plant manager; Sushma Masemore, DEQ assistant secretary; and Kenneth Waldroup, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority executive director. The agreement consists of 14 conditions the parties agree on. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority intervened in the litigation in support of the DEQ permit requirements.
For the initial six months after the commencement of discharge (the “optimization period”), Chemours agrees that it will optimize the operation of the treatment system and make any modifications or improvements that are technologically feasible to reduce PFAS discharges to the Cape Fear River and to meet all requirements of the NPDES Permit.
Also, starting 45 days after discharges into the Cape Fear River have started, Chemours “shall” provide DEQ and CFPUA monthly reports on the optimizations and technological improvements to the system. The fourth monthly reports must include an assessment of whether Chemours projects its optimizations to the system undertaken during the optimization period will make sure it complies with the final effluent limits for PMPA and PFMOAA.
The agreement also gives DEQ enforcement discretion in the event of any violations due to the treatment system failing effluent limits for chemicals discharged.
If Chemours can demonstrate to DEQ that complying with the effluent limits for PMPA and PFMOAA chemical components is not technologically feasible within the time frame established in the NPDES permit, Chemours may apply for a modification to the NPDES Permit.
North Carolina State University environmental researchers earlier this month announced that blood samples taken from among residents living adjacent to the site have a higher degree of PFAS in their bodies than the national average.