Chemours is a company headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware that makes GenX chemicals. GenX is a chemical process that is used to create polymers that are resistant to solvents, acids, and bases.
Do you have a non-stick skillet in your kitchen? It’s made with Teflon, one of the most well-known polymers created by the GenX chemical process.
The chemicals created through the GenX process are used as replacement for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) compounds, which were discovered to be carcinogenic and toxic. The Chemours plant in Wilmington, North Carolina came under fire when a study was conducted in 2017 that found chemicals from the Chemours plant were being released into the water and causing contamination.
After the release of the 2017 study, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) filed a federal lawsuit against Chemours in an effort to prohibit it from releasing chemicals into the water at the Wilmington, N.C. plant. As it turns out, even chemicals at the Chemours plant being released into the air were making their way into the water system. So, the DEQ amended the lawsuit to restrict all chemicals from being released into the air or the water.
The DEQ and Chemours reached an agreement, called a consent order, on September 8, 2017. Cape Fear River Watch, a nonprofit organization that works to control the water quality in the Wilmington, North Carolina region, joined DEQ as a party to the lawsuit and agreed to drop its own, separate lawsuit against Chemours as a provision of the consent order. Because Cape Fear was officially a party to the consent order, it could also work with the DEQ in ensuring Chemours adhered to the agreed-upon settlement provisions.
In the consent order, Chemours agreed to not only conduct health studies on GenX contamination, but it also agreed to make all of the information gathered from those studies available to the public and educate the public on the dangers GenX chemicals can pose to the environment and to people. Chemours is also required to test all public and private wells and provide filtration for any of those wells that are found to contain high levels of GenX chemicals. To combat the contamination caused by air emissions, Chemours has also agreed to install carbon absorption beds and scrubbers (air pollution control devices), which will eventually cut the air emissions at the plant by 70%. To combat the water contamination, Chemours will develop a corrective action plan by December 2019 to lower their water pollution by 75%.
While all of these requirements placed on Chemours are necessary, perhaps the most damaging impact to Chemours will be the $12 million civil fine it is required to pay under the consent order. To date, this is the highest amount ever collected by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Additionally, if Chemours fails to abide by any of the requirements and deadlines associated with the company, it will face steep fines.
As the secretary of the DEQ said in his statement, “People deserve access to clean drinking water, and this order is a significant step in our ongoing effort to protect North Carolina communities and the environment.”