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Environmental groups sue to stop GenX emissions

July 13th, 2018

— Environmental groups have turned to a New Hanover County court to force state regulators to completely shut down the emissions of GenX and other unregulated compounds from the Chemours plant south of Fayetteville.

The lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center Friday argues the state Department of Environmental Quality can and should take “immediate protective action” under the law to halt the release of the contaminants on the grounds that they pose imminent danger to the health and safety of the public.

GenX belongs to a family of industrial chemicals used in the production of Teflon and other materials. Its effects on human health are largely unstudied, but it was designed as the replacement for C8, a compound linked to cancer that’s at the center of thousands of lawsuits against DuPont, which spun off Chemours in 2015.

“The state needs to stop immediately Chemours’ toxic pollution of the air and water that families and communities from Fayetteville to Wilmington depend on,” Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney with the SELC said in a press release. “Every day that goes by, Chemours puts more toxic pollution into the air and water that accumulates in our rivers, land, and groundwater. Chemours’ harmful pollution must end now.”

A spokesperson with DEQ said the agency is still reviewing the filing.

Chemours halted the release of GenX through its wastewater streams in 2017, shortly after the Wilmington StarNews reported on research revealing the presence of the compound in the Cape Fear River and treated drinking water downstream. But state regulators and environmental groups have shifted their focus in recent months to the airborne release of GenX, which still flows from the stacks of one of the company’s production lines.

Testing of the groundwater near the plant – particularly hundreds of private drinking water wells –  revealed elevated levels of GenX that prompted the state to order Chemours to supply nearby residents with bottled water. Regulators and researchers suspect the source is air emissions that have contaminated rainwater and soil in the area.

As of Friday afternoon, Chemours had not responded to requests for comment on Friday’s lawsuit. But the company has maintained that GenX and other related substances have not affected the safety of drinking water in the state.

At the same time, Chemours officials have touted $100 million in upgrades that will reduce almost all emissions of these so-called per- and polyfluorinated contaminants in two years. They’ve also indicated that a complete halt of emissions isn’t possible with the production line, which employs about 70 people, still in operation.

“We can’t get to 100 percent emission reduction,” Fayetteville Works plant manager Brian Long told WRAL News during a walkthrough of the plant in June. “But we can get to 99 percent by the end of the first quarter of 2020.”

But the lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Cape Fear River Watch, is pushing for a full stop to the release of GenX now – even if state regulators have to essentially declare a public health emergency to do it.

“The people of North Carolina depend on DEQ to protect our health and safety in times of emergency,” said Dana Sargent, president of the Cape Fear River Watch Board of Directors, said. “This is one of those times.”

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