Groups seek to stop Active Energy’s illegal PFAS pollution of North Carolina’s Lumber River
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—After testing revealed unpermitted discharges of toxic PFAS into the Lumber River, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Winyah Rivers Alliance today notified Active Energy Renewable Power—subsidiary of U.K. company, Active Energy Group—that the company is in violation of federal law and must stop its releases of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. If Active Energy does not stop polluting the river with PFAS from its facility in Lumberton, N.C., the conservation groups will enforce the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in federal court to protect the health of surrounding communities and watershed.
“We are extremely concerned that Active Energy is releasing toxic PFAS into the Lumber River,” said Heather Hillaker, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The company is violating multiple federal laws by dumping these chemicals into the river without telling anyone and endangering people.”
Sampling conducted from Active Energy’s wastewater outfall detected total PFAS concentrations of nearly 20,000 parts per trillion in October 2021, and nearly 15,000 ppt in December 2021—thousands of times higher than recommended health values for the chemicals. EPA recently indicated that these industrial chemicals can be harmful to human health at levels below one ppt. PFAS have also been found in high levels in Jacob Branch, a tributary of the Lumber River that borders Active Energy’s site.
“This news is devastating to everyone who loves this watershed, including the local community, my fellow Lumbee Tribe members, and travelers from around the state who come here to fish, paddle, and camp,” said Winyah Rivers Alliance’s Lumber Riverkeeper, Jefferson Currie II. “Active Energy continues to ignore basic environment laws meant to protect our community—this is just one more example of this company’s disregard for our wellbeing and the health of the Lumber River.”
In March 2021, the conservation groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to stop Active Energy’s unpermitted discharges of other pollutants into the watershed. The company failed to apply for a permit from the state for its discharges and therefore has not disclosed information about its discharges to the state or the public. By releasing PFAS into the watershed as well, the company further endangers nearby communities that are predominantly Lumbee and Black, and already exposed to multiple sources of industrial pollution.
If Active Energy constructs a wood pellet mill at the site as planned, the company will increase its wastewater discharges, including its releases of PFAS. PFAS is a class of thousands of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX and is associated with serious health impacts such as various cancers, developmental effects to infants, and reduced vaccine effectiveness. These contaminants are known as forever chemicals—they do not degrade and instead persist and build up in our bodies and the environment.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 170, including 90 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. southernenvironment.org
About Winyah Rivers Alliance
Winyah Rivers Alliance is a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed in North and South Carolina. For over 20 years, our work has been focused on protecting our local river resources and our communities’ rights to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. Both the Lumber RIVERKEEPER® and the Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER® are programs of Winyah Rivers Alliance.