Read the full article by Greg Barnes

“A Bladen County Superior Court judge approved a revised consent order Monday that fines a chemical company $12 million and requires it to accelerate actions to remove contaminants from the air, groundwater and the Cape Fear River.

‘This ruling provides a clear timeline and certainty for the people of the Cape Fear River Basin,’ said Michael S. Regan, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality. ‘It sets a strong precedent: profits may not come before people, and the leadership of the state of North Carolina will not allow your actions to go unchecked.’

The consent order forces chemical manufacturer Chemours to submit monthly reports about emissions of the chemical GenX and related fluorochemicals. The order does not prevent DEQ from taking any future enforcement action against the company and nothing in the document releases any other entity from liability.

The consent order took effect after being signed by Douglas Sasser, a Bladen County Superior Court judge, who approved the order in its entirety. The DEQ made public a revised copy of the order last week and on Monday released a 640-page file containing hundreds of public comments regarding it.

Although DEQ officials are praising the order, environmentalists and citizen activists don’t think it does nearly enough to minimize the health risks to people affected by decades of pollution or assure them that Chemours will stop the contamination and clean up what’s already there. Many people who made public comments said Chemours should be forced to close.

‘Chemours continues to lie, or gaslight us, with no consequences.  Why would they change?’ said Kathleen Gallagher, an administrator of the nonprofit Facebook group North Carolina Stop GenX in Our Water

It’s approaching two years since the public was first alerted to GenX in the Cape Fear River, and —  for many living near the coast or the Bladen County chemical plant — in their drinking water.

State regulators have moved swiftly in that time to ensure that Chemours stopped discharging GenX and other related chemicals, commonly known as PFAS, either into the water or the air. GenX is used in the manufacture of Teflon and other nonstick products, including food packaging. The chemical is also used in the production of firefighting foam and has other high-temperature applications.

The state has forced Chemours to cap its discharge pipes and to haul most of its process wastewater containing GenX and other contaminants off-site for disposal. The level of GenX now found in the Cape Fear River is far below North Carolina’s health goal of 140 parts per trillion, though concerns remain about runoff from the plant, groundwater migration and other PFAS in the river.

The DEQ’s investigation of Chemours has led to the company agreeing to spend about $100 million on a thermal oxidizer and other equipment that promise to cut air emissions of GenX by 99.9 percent when the work is completed by the end of this year.

In November, the state, Chemours and the environmental group Cape Fear River Watch announced a consent order that would, among many other stipulations, require Chemours to continue to capture and haul all of its process wastewater off site, provide public water or filtration systems to people with contaminated wells and to all but eliminate air emissions of GenX and other PFAS.

The consent order was revised after DEQ received about 380 public comments, many from people objecting to the original order. DEQ officials say those comments helped them revise the order and put more teeth into it.

Among the revisions were that Chemours would be required to make monthly reports of GenX and related compounds; measure and analyze the company’s contributions of contamination at downstream public water suppliers’ raw water intakes; analyze river sediment; and provide downstream water utilities with an accelerated plan to reduce PFAS.

Under the order, Chemours must also make a plan to address runoff of PFAS compounds from its site and the migration of groundwater.

Lisa Randall, a spokeswoman for Chemours, said in a statement that the company is pleased the court approved the consent order.

‘We are committed to working with DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch and the Southern Environmental Law Center to deliver on the emissions control and remediation commitments contained in the order,” Randall said. “The more than $100 million investment in state-of-the-art emission control technology and remediation activity we have underway will deliver a 99% or greater reduction in air and water emissions of all PFAS compounds by the end of this year. We will continue to demonstrate our progress in a transparent way as we know that actions are far more powerful than words…’

Others say Chemours cannot be trusted.

‘Given the record of deception and failure to take any proactive measures or even come into minimal compliance, I called for a shutting down of operations,’ Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina, said days before the judge approved the order. ‘PFAS are accumulating in the environment and in people’s and animals’ bodies, and exposure will continue even after a shutdown of production—there is simply no excuse for allowing continued production of these substances, especially by this company.’

Many of the hundreds of people who provided DEQ with public comments expressed similar sentiments. Many objected to what they considered a paltry penalty. Chemours will be required to pay $12 million in fines and $1 million in investigative costs. The amount of the fine is a record for the state, almost double the previous high.

‘Chemours made $1.3 BILLION in profits for the first quarter of 2018 by poisoning the air, waterways, wells, soil, trees, crops, and people surrounding their site,’ wrote Patricia Sheppard, who lives in a 1730s family farmhouse near Chemours in Bladen County ‘A fine of $12 million is less than 1% of their profits for just one three-month period, hardly a punishment or much of an incentive to stop poisoning us.’’

Some people commented that Chemours should provide public water or filtration systems to everyone with GenX contamination in their wells, not just for those whose wells test above the 140 parts per trillion health goal.

Mike Watters, a vocal opponent of Chemours and the state’s handling of the contamination, said DEQ ignored state laws and should be held accountable.

‘I have never been so disgusted in my life as I am now in the political games that are being played with our lives,’ Watters, who lives near the plant, said in an email.

Some people who submitted comments said they suspect that PFAS caused them or their loved ones to develop kidney cancer or other diseases. There’s little definitive information about the health effects of the unregulated GenX and 46 other chemicals found in drinking water  near Chemours. Lab tests have shown that GenX causes kidney, liver, pancreatic and testicular cancer in animals. A large study of people exposed to a similar chemical, C8, near plants in Ohio and West Virginia found probable links to heart and kidney diseases, Parkinson’s disease and other ailments.

Michael MacLellan is among those who wrote saying he has kidney cancer.

‘I blame Chemours,’ MacLellan wrote. ‘Yes, please make Chemours pay severe penalties for polluting our water and their blatant deception along the way. Most importantly, make them STOP all pollution.’

Others said the order doesn’t do anything for the hundreds of thousands of people who live downstream from the plant and drink public water drawn from the Cape Fear River. Some said Chemours should be forced to pay the costs incurred by downstream public water systems for expensive filtration equipment and for reverse osmosis systems installed by homeowners throughout the affected area.

‘The proposed consent order is woefully inadequate,’ wrote Barbara Hill of Wilmington. ‘It does not solve the cost of upgrades to our (Cape Fear Public Utilities Authority) system, nor all the money we have individually spent on bottled water and (reverse osmosis) systems. How can you, who are supposed to be protecting us and our water, let Chemours (and Dupont before them) get by with illegal discharges and still keep their permit?…Please protect us from these poisons. Shut them down and have them pay for damages and expenses.’

In 2015, Chemours took over the Fayetteville Works plant from DuPont, which had operated it since the 1970s. A Chemours representative has acknowledged that GenX was being released into the Cape Fear River as a byproduct since about 1980.

Richard Schiano of Castle Hayne said that although the consent order has some positive aspects, ‘it leaves those of us living in the Wilmington area as big losers.’

‘Not only is our drinking water still at risk, cleaning it up is left to us to foot the cost to remedy it safe to drink,’ Schiano said. ‘There is something inherently wrong when a large corporation is allowed to put the lives of not only our generation at risk, but also those of our grandchildren. Even more perverse is our public servants and government organizations who are tasked with protecting us, complicit in allowing Chemours to walk away from their responsibilities to clean this mess up. They basically received a slap on the wrist. How could you allow this?’…”