On December 31, 2019, Chemours proposed corrective plans for the damages caused by GenX and other per- and polyflourinated substances (PFAS) discharged from their Fayetteville Works plant to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for approval.
The proposed PFAS corrective plans addressed groundwater and soil remediation, as well as methods for reduction of PFAS emissions. The DEQ, however, did not find the proposed solutions to be adequate.
How the Issue Came About
In a March 2020 article, “GenX: Looking Closer At Chemours’ Plan” by the Coastal Review Online, University of North Carolina Wilmington biology and marine biology professor Larry Cahoon addresses the three main ways groundwater pollution traveled from Fayetteville Works:
There was seepage from an unlined outfall to the Cape Fear River, which stopped after the discharge was relocated to a pipe; leaks and spills on facility grounds; and aerial discharges throughout the airshed around the plant.
Often referred to as “forever chemicals”, GenX and other PFAS cannot be broken down easily. This allows for the chemicals to persist in the environment for tens of thousands of years. For additional background information, please refer to our previous article, “Where GenX and Other PFAS Chemicals are Recently Being Detected“.
Chemours’ PFAS Corrective Plans
Since February of 2019, Chemours has been operating under a special Consent Order. The order requires the company to provide a corrective action plan regarding years of PFAS pollution into the Cape Fear. The plans provided, however, were not up to par with the DEQ’s standards. According to an April 2020 Coastal Review article, “DEQ Says Chemours’ Plan Needs Big Changes“:
[The] DEQ said that based on initial review, the company’s proposed plan “lacks a thorough technical basis, including an adequate assessment of human exposure to PFAS compounds and a thorough evaluation of on- and off-site groundwater contamination.”
DEQ Secretary Micheal S. Regan emphasized that until Chemours makes the appropriate changes to their plan, they will not receive approval from the DEQ. Additionally, the public review of the plans echoes the concerns that the proposal is insufficient.
Chemours’ Response and Legal Issues
On the contrary, Chemours felt their plan met the requirements laid out by the DEQ. In the April 2020 Coastal Review article, a Chemours spokesperson said:
Chemours feels strongly the Corrective Action Plan is robust and in full compliance with the environmental laws of North Carolina and the approved 2019 Consent Order. We are surprised and disappointed by the NCDEQ’s public statement given they have not yet provided Chemours with comment on the plan. We look forward to learning the details behind their comments.
Additionally, federal officials have dropped criminal charges in a Clean Water Act case against Chemours. Regardless, Chemours is not entirely out of the spotlight just yet. According to May 2020 blog post “Feds drop criminal case involving Chemours, Clean Water Act” from the NC Policy Watch:
Chemours still faces hundreds of civil lawsuits related GenX and PFAS, including several in North Carolina. In other states, Chemours also inherited litigation from DuPont in relation to allegations that former employees became sick because of benzene and asbestos exposures while working in the plants.
Chemours estimated the remediation efforts for damages caused by their Fayetteville plant will cost the company around $200 million. The May 2020 NC Policy Watch article states:
In its recent Corrective Action Plan filed with the NC Department of Environmental Quality, Chemours said it could not afford to remove the pollutants from the 70 square miles where the groundwater, drinking water and surface water are contaminated.
Currently, there are significant gaps between monitoring PFAS chemicals and regulating them. Detlef Knappe, N.C. State University scientist and lead researcher on the 2015 study that exposed the presence of GenX in the Cape Fear, feels research on PFAS should not be kept secret. According to Knappe, litigation and regulation starts with disclosing research to the public. Knappe said in a March 2020 Carolina Press article, “Forever Chemicals: PFAS regulation lags in NC as more evidence emerges“:
The public will appreciate if things are disclosed, and it always amazes me people still have a hard time of that… Actions are actually being taken because the public is concerned. So, maybe we’ll develop a viewpoint where we don’t regulate one compound at a time and think more broadly about it.
We will continue to observe the GenX situation and deliver information on any new findings or resolutions. To learn more about the background and specifics of GenX, you can visit our law firm’s website pages:
- GenX Cancers Overview
- Summary of Information
- Timeline: GenX Contamination of the Cape Fear River
- Timeline: GenX Study Results
- GenX: Cancer Evaluation Form
Written by: Lauren Schwab, Legal Assistant
Law Offices of Thomas J. Lamb, P.A.