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Pollution

US EPA cites Chemours for releases of GenX-related chemicals

Emissions violated order governing manufacture of substances, agency says

by Cheryl Hogue
February 15, 2019

 

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Credit: Associated Press
Chemours uses GenX as a surfactant to aid fluoropolymers production at its plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has cited Chemours for failing to control emissions of its GenX-related fluoroethers from plants in North Carolina and West Virginia. The EPA move marks the first federal-enforcement action against Chemours since fluoroether pollution from the factories came to public attention in the last two years.

Chemours violated the terms of a 2009 consent order with the agency that allowed the firm to manufacture two of the chemicals, says EPA’s notice of violation, issued Feb. 14 and first reported by NC Policy Watch.

The fluoroethers are part of Chemours’s GenX technology designed to replace the use of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic perfluoroocanoic acid as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers. The GenX chemicals are considered less toxic and less bioaccumulative than the substance they are replacing.

The agency originally developed the consent order with DuPont, which spun off its fluorochemicals business into Chemours in 2015. With that split, Chemours was legally bound to comply with the 2009 EPA directive.

The order requires the company to “recover and capture (destroy) or recycle” two fluoroethers “at an overall efficiency of 99% from all the effluent process streams and the air emissions.” The EPA issued the order under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a federal law governing the manufacture of commercial chemicals.

The EPA notice of violation also says Chemours failed to notify the agency that it was no longer using hexafluoropropylene oxide—a compound used as a building block for GenX chemicals—in an enclosed process. An enclosed process is required under a TSCA rule on the substance. Company records show that this compound was released into the environment, the citation says.

The EPA says it will propose a fine for the violations after discussions with Chemours.

In a statement, Chemours says it is reviewing the EPA notice. The citation stems from inspections conducted at the two plants in 2017, it says. “We’ve already taken significant action to address [fluoroether] emissions between 2017 and today,” the company says. Chemours began installing pollution-control equipment at the Fayetteville, North Carolina, plant last year after discussions with state regulators. The company also pledged to curb releases of fluorinated organic chemicals to air and water by at least 99% at all of its sites.

Earlier this decade, researchers identified a stew of fluoroethers in the Cape Fear River downstream of Chemours’s Fayetteville facility. Further analysis showed many of the substances were in public drinking water and private wells.

Last summer, the EPA announced that fluoroethers were polluting public and private drinking water wells near the Chemours plant outside Parkersburg, West Virginia.

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