Comments by conservation groups and North Carolina residents lead to strongest limits on PFAS water pollution nationwide
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Cape Fear River Watch and the Southern Environmental Law Center said that the final permit just issued for a new Chemours’ groundwater treatment system by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality sets the strongest limits on discharges of toxic PFAS pollution in the United States after the two groups and many residents urged the agency to strengthen the permit. On behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments in May and June on the draft permit to DEQ that pushed for the changes now reflected in the final permit.
“Enforcing existing law to require that the polluter, Chemours, nearly eliminate PFAS pollution from its discharge into a major drinking water source for over 300,000 North Carolinians is an important milestone in the fight to stop PFAS pollution,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “DEQ listened to the community by issuing a permit that ensures Chemours will use the best available technology to nearly eliminate PFAS from its new treatment system, protecting the Cape Fear River and families downstream.”
The agency’s earlier draft permit would have authorized significantly more PFAS pollution from the groundwater treatment system—a treatment system required under the consent order negotiated by the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, with the Department of Environmental Quality, and Chemours.
“Our lawsuit against Chemours forced the company to drastically reduce discharges, and it showed that technology can remove these toxins to near non-detectable levels,” said Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch. “We are grateful that DEQ heard our communities’ outrage and heartache and imposed protective permit limits.”
The consent order requires Chemours to stop the GenX and other PFAS pollution at its source, the Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Facility, provide clean drinking water to North Carolinians with contaminated wells, and ensure the Cape Fear River is safe for downstream communities. The river is the drinking water source for Wilmington, N.C., and New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties downstream. GenX and other PFAS have been found at high levels in the treated drinking water for these communities.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a final health advisory for GenX in June of 2022. The new health advisory, which is 10 parts per trillion, shows that GenX is much more harmful to human health than previously anticipated. A timeline of the contamination discovery, litigation and consent order can be found here.