SELC Op-Ed: Chemours cleanup plan falls short

Chemours’ plant is in Fayetteville, North Carolina upstream from the port city of Wilmington, pictured here.
The plan proposed to cleanup years of contamination from a factory in eastern North Carolina does not go far enough. In the excerpt below Senior Attorney Geoff Gisler and our partner Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette outline the many ways Chemours can do better by local residents. To urge stronger action, you can submit a comment at this link.
Read the full article, published in the Fayetteville-Observer, here

Because the company’s contamination has reached historic proportions, Chemours asserts it should not be held to its commitments.

For more than two years, residents in southeastern North Carolina have grappled with the reality that the Chemours Company, and before it DuPont, knowingly contaminated their air, water, soil and groundwater with GenX and other per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Chemours promised to make things right in an enforceable consent order with the state and Cape Fear River Watch. Now, the company has submitted a corrective action plan, a document that is supposed to describe how the company will clean up its unprecedented contamination, and people can comment on it through April 6.

Chemours’ plan outlines how it intends to go about making things right — for itself. Long on excuses and caveats, the company’s plan falls short on actions that will correct its wrongs.

Chemours’ plan falls short by design — at the outset, the company rejects mandatory requirements of the consent order and state groundwater laws. Chemours refuses the goal of both the order and North Carolina law: to reduce groundwater PFAS contamination to levels that cannot be detected “or as closely thereto as is economically and technologically feasible.” Its rationale for rejecting this goal? The company’s “PFAS have been detected over an area of 70+ square miles (over 45,000 acres)” and any remedy would cost the company “in the billions to tens of billions of dollars.” In other words, because Chemours’ contamination has reached historic proportions, Chemours asserts it should not be held to its commitments or laws designed to protect the families and communities it has hurt.

If Chemours wanted to do right, it would commit to stopping the flow of pollutants into groundwater with available, well-established technology.

Chemours’ plan also fails to adequately address its discovery of four significant, highly contaminated seeps that flow into the Cape Fear River.

Given the unparalleled scope of Chemours’ pollution, the company could (and should) do more.

Chemours could go one of two ways with its corrective action plan: do what’s right for communities whose lives have been forever harmed or see how much it can get away with. Regrettably, the company chose the latter.

But that’s not where this story ends. The corrective action plan is currently open for public comment. The Department of Environmental Quality can, and must, reject the plan as proposed. Any corrective action plan that DEQ approves must:

  • Require the maximum reduction of PFAS contamination in onsite groundwater that is achievable;
  • Prevent any contaminated groundwater from polluting the Cape Fear River or the on-site streams that flow into it; and
  • Require Chemours to make every effort to provide municipal water supplies or upgraded treatment capacity to all residents affected by this unprecedented pollution.

People are more important than Chemours’ bottom line. Now is the time to make your voice heard.

The corrective action plan is posted on DEQ’s website at https://deq.nc.gov/news/key-issues/genx-investigation/chemours-consent-order-february-2019. Submit comments by April 6, 2020 to publiccomment@ncdenr.gov.

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