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State Initiates Lawsuit Against Chemours, Takes Steps To Suspend Company's Permit

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Sep 6, 2017

The state has taken several actions, including initiating a lawsuit against The Chemours Co., the company that has been linked to discharging GenX and other unregulated chemicals into the Cape Fear River, officials announced Tuesday.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has ordered Chemours to stop releasing all fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River and has begun the process to suspend the company's permit for failure to adequately disclose the release of GenX into the river, said DEQ spokesman Jamie Kritzer, who issued a news release Tuesday afternoon.

The permit governs Chemours' discharge of wastewater from its Fayetteville Works facility 70 miles upstream from Wilmington along the Cape Fear River. State law requires DEQ to give the company a 60-day notice before suspending its wastewater discharge permit or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Without it, the company cannot release any wastewater into the Cape Fear River, officials said in the release.

A letter to Chemours from DEQ officials states, "there is sufficient cause to suspend the permit."

"We have found no evidence in the permit file indicating that Chemours or DuPont (Chemours’ predecessor) disclosed the discharge to surface water of GenX compounds at the Fayetteville Works. In particular, the NPDES permit renewal applications submitted to DWR (Division of Water Resources) contain no reference to 'GenX' or to any chemical name, formula, or CAS number that would identify any GenX compounds in the discharge,” officials continued in the letter.

DuPont ran the Fayetteville Works facility that produces GenX until 2015 when Chemours was spun-off from DuPont, according to officials.

Calls and emails to The Chemours Co. were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

The letter also calls on the company to meet several earlier demands, including stopping the discharge of any chemicals related to GenX, such as the Nafion byproducts, by Sept. 8 and stopping the discharge of any other perfluorinated or polyfluorinated compounds by Oct. 20. In addition, officials said the letter demands that Chemours provide complete information about all chemicals included in the Fayetteville facility’s waste stream, a schedule previously set by DEQ.

​Last week, DEQ officials announced that the EPA had discovered two additional unregulated chemicals in Wilmington’s water supply, chemicals they called “Nafion byproducts 1 and 2” that were found in Chemours’ waste stream. Estimated concentrations of these compounds are not decreasing, officials said last week.

The state initiated a lawsuit against the company by filing a civil summons in Bladen County Superior Court. Acting on behalf of DEQ, attorneys with the N.C. Department of Justice will seek a court order against Chemours, the state said in a letter with the summons.

Tuesday’s civil court summons and letter from the N.C. Attorney General's Office reiterate DEQ’s demands that Chemours stop its discharge of all fluorinated compounds and disclose all compounds in its waste stream.

In the letter, state attorneys wrote: “DEQ has reasonable cause to believe that Chemours has violated or is threatening to violate provisions” of state law and "[t]herefore, has directed the Attorney General's Office to institute a civil action for injunctive relief to restrain the violation or threatened violation of the law."

Injunctive relief could include an order issued by a judge requiring the company to cease the discharge for the time being or take other steps to protect public health and safety, DEQ officials said in the release.

“Protecting people's drinking water is our top priority, and we’ve put Chemours on notice that it must stop discharging these chemicals into the Cape Fear River immediately,” DEQ Secretary Michael Regan said in the release. “Chemours must stop releasing all fluorinated compounds and fully disclose all chemicals in its waste stream, and we’re taking action to make sure that happens.”

Kritzer said Tuesday there will be some other actions that DEQ is looking into, and that further details will be released soon.

Officials with the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority also issued a statement following DEQ's annoucement, stating, "Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is encouraged to see continued progress in DEQ’s efforts to ensure the Cape Fear River is properly protected as a water source.  CFPUA and its attorneys have long called for regulatory action against Chemours. Today’s announcement by NCDEQ that it has ordered the company to stop the release of all fluorinated compounds into the Cape Fear River is a positive step."

Correction: The version of this story reflects that the state has initiated a lawsuit against Chemours.

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