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Posted on: October 27, 2022

CFPUA intervenes in Chemours’ permit appeal, seeks protective discharge limits

Bend in Cape Fear River

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) on Thursday, October 27, filed a motion with the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings to intervene in Chemours’ appeal of a discharge permit recently issued by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ).

On September 15, 2022, NCDEQ issued a final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Treatment System (NPDES) permit for a treatment system to remove PFAS compounds in contaminated groundwater and stormwater and water from seeps at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works chemical manufacturing site.

Because the treatment system will discharge into the Cape Fear River at an outfall above the location of CFPUA’s raw water intakes, levels of PFAS remaining after treatment affect downstream water users such as CFPUA and its customers – and the cost to operate new Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

The NPDES permit includes limits on Chemours’ discharge of certain of its PFAS compounds:

During an initial 180-day “optimization period”: 120 parts per trillion (ppt) for GenX, 100 ppt for PMPA, and 320 ppt for PFMOAA.

After the 180 “optimization period”: less than 10 ppt for GenX, 10 ppt for PMPA, and less than 20 ppt for PFMOAA. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a health advisory level (HAL) for GenX of 10 ppt for lifetime consumption.

According to a fact sheet NCDEQ issued with the permit, “Technology Based Effluent Limits were the guiding criteria used to develop permit limitations for HFPO-DA, PFMOAA, and PMPA.” EPA states “Technology-based effluent limitations (TBELs) in NPDES permits require a minimum level of treatment of pollutants for point source discharges based on available treatment technologies.”

On October 14, Chemours announced it was appealing the permit, complaining “late changes to the permit as issued included future effluent limits that exceed the design basis of the proposed treatment system, giving rise to compliance uncertainty with the permit terms within the timeframe required.”

Chemours’ appeal announcement came just three days after CFPUA shared news that no PFAS, including Chemours’ GenX, had been detected in the most recent tests of drinking water treated at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. This was thanks to new GAC filters that had recently begun treating all drinking water distributed from Sweeney. The Sweeney Plant treats about 80 percent of drinking water distributed to CFPUA customers.

To date, CFPUA has spent more than $49 million on efforts in response to Chemours’ PFAS contamination, including $43 million in project costs to construct the new GAC filters at the Sweeney Plant. Annual operating costs for the new filters are estimated at $3.7 million in fiscal year 2023 and about $5 million in subsequent years. So far, Chemours has left CFPUA customers to pay for these costs to address the decades of PFAS contamination from their Fayetteville Works site.

CFPUA has filed a lawsuit in federal District Court seeking to compel Chemours to pay. Timing of the outcome of the lawsuit or the amount or structure of any potential monetary award cannot be predicted. CFPUA is a government entity and operates with no profit whatsoever. This means any monetary award resulting from the lawsuit will benefit CFPUA customers.

“The cost to operate the new GAC filters is directly tied to the amount of PFAS our neighbor Chemours is putting in the Cape Fear River. The more PFAS Chemours sends to the river, the more it costs us to remove those PFAS from our customers’ drinking water,” said CFPUA Executive Director Kenneth Waldroup. “At least 70 percent of our most recent rate increase and our next projected rate increase is directly attributable to Chemours’ pollution. On behalf of our customers, we have filed this motion to intervene and have a seat at the table so we can advocate for our community for enforcement of the permit as written."

“It is truly baffling to see Chemours complain about having to reduce its GenX discharges to a level below the EPA’s health advisory level while simultaneously funding an image campaign to persuade those paying to deal with its PFAS contamination that it is a good neighbor and announcing its intention to expand production at the Fayetteville Works,” Mr. Waldroup said. “As permit writers at NCDEQ have pointed out, the limits in the permit are based on the capabilities of the technology and health guidance from EPA. Chemours needs to live up to its stated corporate values.”