Wilmington, Delaware-based The Chemours Co. plans to make an investment of $100 million into its Fayetteville Works facility in a long-term plan to reduce emissions of GenX and other related compounds.
The plan was written in a response
to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s 60-day notice to modify the company’s air quality permit. An attorney for the company wrote in that response that Chemours is in the process of making “a massive investment” in its Fayetteville Works facility, through both interim and future measures, including a series of new technologies at the plant.
But is that enough to resolve local public concerns about the health effects of the various chemical compounds?
“I think it's certainly a step in the right direction. However, I think it still highlights the real backward approach we have to ensure our air and water quality – is that we have to find instances of contamination and go through this horrible public hysteria we’ve seen, before a company is forced to protect the environment,” New Hanover County Commissioner Chairman Woody White said. “With Chemours … they still have not reached a level worthy of any public trust at all in what they say, versus what they do.”
Though the company has taken actions, White said, “We need to make sure and keep our eye on it, and keep the pressure on them.” He also noted that the actions outlined by the company are taking place 11 months after news about GenX first hit headlines.
An attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center also said Wednesday that the company needs to do more and do it quickly. The center has notified Chemours of its intent to sue
, citing violations of the Clean Water Act and Toxic Substances Control Act, on behalf of local nonprofit environmental group Cape Fear River Watch.
“I think it is unique in the case of contamination. We have been doing this kind of work for a long time and I can't think of another instance in which a facility has so thoroughly contaminated the air, soil, groundwater, [and] drinking water -- just the extent of the pollution here is really remarkable,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and leader of Southern Environmental Law Center's Clean Water Program, on Wednesday.
Officials with Southern Environmental Law Center, in a Monday news release about its notice of a civil lawsuit to Chemours, said, "If its violations are not stopped within 60 days, the conservation groups will file suit against Chemours in federal court to stop the pollution."
That new release also stated the firm has sent a request of a declaratory ruling
to NCDEQ (also on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch) for a ruling ordering Chemours to immediately discontinue all emissions and discharges of GenX and other chemical compounds from the Fayetteville Works facility and said, "DEQ must act now to protect the families and communities burdened by Chemours’ ongoing pollution.”
According to an email from Megan Thorpe, NCDEQ communications director, "DEQ will review SELC’s petition thoroughly and make an appropriate decision on their request."
She added in that email Wednesday, "It appears SELC’s petition is primarily based on the multiple enforcement actions DEQ has already taken against Chemours to fight the company’s emissions of GenX and protect North Carolinians’ water and air."
Among those actions was NCDEQ’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) 60-day notice of intent, issued April 6, to modify Chemours' air quality permit. In that notice, the agency required Chemours to show compliance “with all lawful requirements of the current terms of its permit,” the agency said.
DAQ required Chemours to respond by April 27 and demonstrate that emissions of GenX compounds from the Fayetteville Works facility under current conditions and under alternate conditions “do not and will not cause or contribute to violations of the groundwater rules.”
Chemours, in its response, outlined the air emissions control activities planned for 2018 and the installation of a regenerative thermal oxidizer in late 2019 or early 2020.
To "demonstrate its commitment to continuing to operate at its Fayetteville Works facility," Chemours officials said in the company's response to NCDEQ that it has already taken a number of interim steps, including those to move forward with reducing air emissions.
Its planned thermal oxidizer is claimed to be the “centerpiece” of the upcoming technology at the plant, which "works by mixing input streams with oxygen at high temperature to oxidize the GenX compounds and other constituents," according to Chemours' 30-page response. The cost of the thermal oxidizer alone is $40 million.
Chemours, a Fortune 500 company, has placed an order for the construction of the thermal oxidizer with Tulsa, Oaklahoma-headquartered Linde Engineering North America Inc. But the manufacturing process will take months, with the delivery expected in June 2019.
In addition, Chemours officials said the company is also getting a thermolysis reactor and ion exchange and carbon absorption control to address “various aqueous streams.” The combination of these technologies, the company's response said, will make the facility unlike any in the world.
The installation of the equipment at the facility and integrated with other elements is “a process that will require major construction at the facility (and involve the creation of over 200 North Carolina construction jobs),” according to its response.
The company, a spinoff of Dupont, claims that materials produced at the Fayetteville Works facility in Bladen County, including GenX, are critical to the state and national economy. “Every airplane, automobile, cell phone and other communication device requires fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers are also key components of consumer electronics, of microchips for the semiconductor industry and life-saving medical equipment, from catheters to saline bags, to medical analytical equipment," stated the response.
According to the documents, the Fayetteville Works facility supplies a “substantial percentage” of fluoropolymer needs of the U.S. military, the automobile industry, the aerospace industry and the semiconductor industry, among many others – all of whom would "otherwise confront severe shortages of these critical inputs for their products and/or be forced to turn to suppliers from China and other foreign nations.”
The documents state that Chemours wants to proceed with its investment in Fayetteville Works so that the facility can “continue to operate in North Carolina, contribute to the North Carolina economy and employ hundreds of North Carolinians in a manner that instills full public confidence."
"Chemours has committed tremendous financial personnel resources to develop this plan. Since last fall, Chemours's engineers and scientists have devoted over 35,000 person-hours to researching, developing and designing ways to reduce emissions of GenX compounds ... the plan is now underway," the response states, adding that the plan provides an implementation of the various measures "on the earliest available timeframe."
The investments, the company claims, will reduce air emissions of GenX compounds by an estimated 40 percent in a few weeks, 70 percent by October and a 99 percent reduction once the technology is completely installed by late 2019 or early 2020.
NCDEQ officials said the response from Chemours is still under review, along with the petition from Southern Environmental Law Center to NCDEQ.
Gisler said the law firm has been working with Cape Fear River Watch since the news about the discharges of GenX from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville was reported last summer.
But the overall message, Gisler said is "this is a level of pollution that we haven’t seen in North Carolina.
“While it is easy to talk about … now, the folks with contaminated water living downstream who are drinking the water, they don’t have two years to wait and need more immediate action. We are glad the company is starting to take responsibility for their actions, but they need to do more and they need to do it more quickly."