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Persistent Pollutants

EPA cites Chemours for exceeding PFAS limits in wastewater

Company ordered to control and characterize discharges at West Virginia site

by Britt E. Erickson
April 27, 2023

 

The US Environmental Protection Agency is going after Chemours to reduce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in wastewater regularly discharged into the Ohio River from the company’s Washington Works facility near Parkersburg, West Virginia. The agency claims the levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), a breakdown product of the PFOA replacement known as GenX, exceed those set in the facility’s discharge permit.

chemical structure of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

The action marks the first time the EPA has used its enforcement authority under the Clean Water Act to target PFAS in wastewater discharges.

chemical structure of hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA)

Chemours produces fluoropolymers and other fluorinated organic chemicals at the Washington Works site. The company says those products are not harmful to human health. But the fluorinated surfactants used as processing aids to make the chemicals are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to humans and the environment.

Contamination from the former use of PFOA as a processing aid at the Washington Works facility still plagues Chemours, which was spun off from DuPont in 2015. The firm is also facing scrutiny over discharges of HFPO-DA resulting from the use of GenX.

The EPA’s order cites numerous dates from September 2018 to March 2023 on which the Chemours facility discharged more PFOA and HFPO-DA than its permit allowed The order also states that Chemours failed to “properly operate and maintain all facilities and systems.” According to the order, EPA inspectors found unplugged grates and piping that allowed some waste to escape, as well as rips and tears in bins used to store waste.

The order directs Chemours to test for PFAS in stormwater and effluent discharged from the Washington Works facility and to implement a plan to capture and destroy the problematic chemicals before the wastewater is discharged.

“The Parkersburg community has a long history with this facility and the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution,” EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz says in a statement. “This order demonstrates that EPA will take action to safeguard public health and the environment from these dangerous contaminants.”

Chemours declines to say how it plans to control the pollution. In an emailed statement, the company says it “is committed to manufacturing its products responsibly.” Those products include chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing and hydrogen production, the firm says. “We worked with EPA to agree to a consent decree and will continue to take action to address the legacy deposition that have contributed to many of the exceedances.”

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