Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, Chemours, and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality on Monday, November 14, signed an agreement under which Chemours pledges to dismiss its appeal of a discharge permit meant to reduce the amount of the company’s PFAS contamination entering the Cape Fear River.
On September 15, 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.
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.
Chemours appealed the permit on October 14, citing “uncertainty” in meeting discharge limits. On November 10, an N.C. administrative law judge granted CFPUA’s motion to intervene in Chemours’ appeal.
Under the agreement signed Monday, Chemours promised to dismiss its appeal within five days. In addition, during the initial six months of operation Chemours will “optimize operation of the Treatment System and make such modifications as are technologically feasible … to meet all requirement of the NPDES Permit,” the agreement states.
Because Chemours' 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 level of PFAS Chemours is releasing into the Cape Fear River directly affects the efficiency and the operating costs of drinking water treatment systems such as CFPUA’s new GAC treatment systems,” CFPUA Executive Director Kenneth Waldroup said. “It is imperative that Chemours reduce or eliminate its PFAS discharges in an expeditious manner.”
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.