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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURE: UPDATES, RESOURCES, AND CONTEXT

EPA revokes Chemours' permit to import GenX wastewater to its Fayetteville Works plant

The Fayetteville Works facility, where Chemours manufactures PFAS or 'forever chemicals.'
Vince Winkel
The Fayetteville Works facility, where Chemours manufactures PFAS or 'forever chemicals.'

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it rescinded its permit allowing Chemours to import the waste after learning the company had provided inaccurate information — and questioned the company's ability to protect public health in general.

The permit would have allowed Chemours to ship 4 million tons of that wastewater from the Netherlands to its Fayetteville Works plant for recycling.

Governor Roy Cooper, along with Brunswick and New Hanover county leaders, and advocacy groups like Clean Cape Fear, had called on the EPA to reverse its earlier approval of a permit for Chemours.

The pleas were close to home since they were addressed to Michael Regan, whom Cooper appointed to run the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality about six months before StarNews broke the story of GenX pollution in the Cape Fear River in 2017.

In a letter to Cooper, Regan said the permit had been revoked because Chemours had provided inaccurate information. The company actually overestimated how much waste it could process by a factor of ten.

Cape Fear River Watch, a local nonprofit environmental protection group that helped force a consent order between Chemours and the state, ascribed the permit revocation to something else — public pressure on the heels of reporting by Lisa Sorg for NC Newsline.

"It seems clear the only reason this decision was withdrawn is because a reporter broke this story — and the community was outraged — so they knew we would be watching. The right thing happened, but only after so much went wrong," Executive Director Dana Sargent told WHQR.

"We only found out our community was soaking in PFAS pollution after a reporter told us six years ago; and here again, a reporter told us that our 'good neighbors' Chemours were planning to add to that mess to help them maintain their manufacturing overseas," she said.

While the EPA didn't directly cite it as a reason for rescinding Chemours' permit, Regan did raise concerns about Chemours' ability to protect the public from the forever chemicals it manufactures.

"Chemours has a history of dangerous PFAS releases, which raises concerns about the company's ability to take measures that fully protect public health and the environment," Regan wrote.

In a statement, Chemours defended its recycling program for HFPO-DA, the chemical commonly referred to outside of the company as GenX (although the company insists GenX refers to a process, not a chemical). The company also reiterated the claim that its PFAS products are important for "decarbonizing the energy sector."

Chemours also took a swipe at media.

"We regret that misinformation about HFPO-DA recycling has dominated the media landscape and raised unnecessary alarm," the company wrote.

The company also said it proactively notified the EPA of its miscalculation, and will “continue to engage with authorities on the path forward" — presumably with an updated permit application to the EPA.