State officials and Chemours reach partial deal on Gen X; Cape Fear Utility Authority not consulted

Madeline Gray | North State Journal
The Cape Fear River waterfront in Wilmington

ELIZABETHTOWN — The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the Chemours Company have reached a preliminary agreement to halt the future discharge of GenX into the state waters, after state officials sought a temporary restraining order against the company responsible for releasing unregulated chemical compounds into the Cape Fear River.

“By failing to disclose the presence of GenX and related compounds in its discharge, and by misrepresenting that GenX and related compounds were not present in its discharge, Chemours has caused a state of public alarm and uncertainty regarding the safety of public drinking water,” the state complaint read.

Legal teams deliberated privately for close to five hours on Friday, before Judge Douglas Sasser of the Bladen County Superior Court granted a partial consent order.

As part of the agreement, Chemours will continue measures to prevent wastewater contaminated by GenX and Nafion byproducts from being released into state waters. The company will also be required to provide the federal Environmental Protection Agency and NCDEQ with confidential business information, in a timely manner, to comply with their ongoing investigations.

The complaint comes as part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s response to reports that Chemours’ Fayetteville Works plant was releasing GenX, a fluorinated chemical, into the Cape Fear River as a byproduct of producing nonstick coating.

Chemours said the chemical has been released for 37 years and has a federal consent order in place that exempted the chemical when it was produced as a byproduct.

In June, NCDEQ inspected the Chemours plant and reported that they had properly isolated the byproduct from public water sources, but later stated concerns about two additional compounds — Nafion byproduct 1 and 2.

State lawmakers have criticized Cooper and his environmental head, Michael Regan, for a slow response to the crisis. Republican leadership questioned why it took months for the executive branch to issue a Notice of Violation — often an initial step in holding violators accountable and requiring them to bear the cleanup costs, and passed legislation to direct funding to measure and develop technologies to remove GenX from public water supplies.

NCDEQ eventually issued an NOV to Chemours on September 6, just days before a deadline set by the General Assembly.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which monitors the main water supply affected by the contamination, said they were not consulted prior to negotiations with Chemours on Friday and were not invited to participate in the hearing. Regardless, after reviewing the order they were pleased with the results.

“We applaud the DEQ for taking this action and believe that the Court would have granted a TRO with or without Chemours consent,” the utility said in a statement on Monday.