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Chemours is importing GenX waste from Europe. Local government officials and advocates oppose it.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces new regulations on PFAS in drinking water at UNCW, March 14, 2023.
Kelly Kenoyer
EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces new regulations on PFAS in drinking water at UNCW, March 14, 2023.

Brunswick County Chairman Randy Thompson sent a letter on behalf of the Board of Commissioners to EPA Administrator Michael Regan this week. The letter outlined concerns about Chemours’ plans to import GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to the plant in Fayetteville.

Brunswick County Chairman Randy Thompson sent a letter on behalf of the Board of Commissioners to EPA Administrator Michael Regan this week. The letter outlined concerns about Chemours’ plans to import GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to the plant in Fayetteville.

The EPA recently reauthorized those imports, up to 4 million pounds of the PFAS compound, over the next year. As reported first by Lisa Sorg for NC Newsline, the decision caught the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality off guard.

Emily Donovan of Clean Cape Fear called the decision “devastating.”

“The Fayetteville Works plant will recycle or reuse the GenX, according to EPA documents. However, it’s unclear if this process would still create waste and require treatment to keep it from entering the environment,” Donovan wrote in an email to WHQR.

Ted Leopold, the co-lead counsel in the Chemours Cape Fear PFAS Class Action, said of the EPA’s decision: “DuPont and Chemours have a long, detailed and tortured history of being irresponsible with its manufacturing and management of PFAS waste. For decades they have caused hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians to suffer from life-threatening health issues and property damage from the drinking water systems the company knowingly contaminated without telling anyone. Hearing that they are now importing such a massive quantity of highly toxic PFAS chemicals into Fayetteville should alarm everyone who cares about their health, the environment, and the general wellbeing of the public.”

The EPA authorized the shipments in early September. Sorg reported it in mid-October, and Brunswick County’s response came on Nov. 1.

Brunswick County Chairman Randy Thompson wrote, “We still have concerns about how Chemours is handling GenX at the Fayetteville site and how their previous misconduct in GenX and PFAS waste disposal has posed a risk to the health of Brunswick County residents and the environment. We feel EPA should consider these concerns and reassess the allowed number of imports approved in the recent authorization.”

The letter outlined two specific concerns — that the GenX contamination unfairly burdens water customers and residents with the cost of filtration, and that there are still remnants of improperly disposed PFAS in the Cape Fear River. That remaining contamination is why the county has issued $167.3 million worth of revenue bonds to install a reverse osmosis treatment system to remove PFAS at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant.

Thompson also wrote three recommendations: 1). Ensure Chemours has significantly reduced the amount of PFAS entering the Cape Fear River before allowing more PFAS in the state, 2) Hold Chemours accountable to future changes to health advisory levels or maximum contaminant levels, and 3). Include NCDEQ in the process when considering future authorizations.

“All residents who source their water from the Cape Fear River and a growing number of residents who source their water from drinking water wells are affected by Chemours’ pollution and have yet to see the company fulfill NCDEQ’s 2019 Consent Order,” Thompson wrote.

Chemours declined requests for an interview to explain how the GenX waste recycling process works or if it might require additional precautions.

The company did issue a statement:

“Chemours’ Fayetteville Works site receives recovered HFPO-DA [see editorial note, below] from our Dordrecht Works facility for recycling, after which it is reused in the manufacturing processes to produce essential fluoropolymers for use in applications like semiconductor and electric vehicle production. Reclaiming and recycling HFPO-DA is an important circularity activity that helps reduce the need to manufacture larger volumes of new, virgin HFPO-DA. Chemours works closely with EPA and other authorities who regularly review and approve the permits required to perform this activity.

This process is not new to Chemours or Fayetteville Works as evidenced by several media reports on the matter dating back to at least 2019.

The volumes contained in the permits issued in The Netherlands provide maximum allowable levels authorized for transport. We anticipate that actual volumes of compound received for recycling will be far lower, closer to amounts received historically. Chemours’ Fayetteville Works has emissions control technologies in place to abate emissions of fluorinated compounds in accordance with our operating permits and levels contained in the Consent Order agreement with NC DEQ and Cape Fear River Watch.”

*Editorial note: The chemically often referred to as GenX is technically hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), also called C3 Dimer Acid. Chemours says it uses the chemical and its ammonium salt in the process of making certain fluoropolymers. While Chemours protests that "GenX" should not be used interchangeably as a shorthand for HFPO-DA, many journalists, scientists, legislators, governmental agencies, and activists do so.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.