North Carolina officials took legal and administrative actions Tuesday to stop a chemical company from discharging compounds with unknown health risks into a river that supplies hundreds of thousands of people with drinking water.
The state environmental agency said it gave Chemours Co. a required 60-day notice before suspending a key permit needed by its chemical plant near Fayetteville that employs nearly 1,000 workers. The Fortune 500 company can't release any wastewater into the Cape Fear River without the permit. It's not clear whether losing the discharge permit would force the plant's shutdown.
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A Chemours spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
The river is the main source of the water utility serving about 200,000 people in and around Wilmington, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) downstream of the Chemours plant.
The Department of Environmental Quality notified Chemours that it's taking action because the Wilmington, Delaware-based company didn't adequately disclose releases of GenX, an unregulated and little-studied compound used to make Teflon.
Only after a North Carolina State University researcher's findings were publicized in June by news organizations did Chemours inform the state agency that GenX byproducts had been discharged into the river for decades, DEQ said in a letter to the company Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Attorney General Josh Stein's office began seeking a state court order to stop the discharges.
Federal prosecutors last month issued a subpoena demanding documents, research and monitoring data from the state agency as they investigate Chemours' chemical releases.
GenX has been used since 2009 to make Teflon and other non-stick products, replacing the suspected carcinogen PFOA. There are no federal health standards for GenX. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as an "emerging contaminant" to be studied.
DuPont spun off Chemours two years ago. In February, DuPont and Chemours agreed to pay nearly $671 million to settle 3,500 lawsuits related to the release of PFOA from a Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant more than a decade ago. That was two months after a federal jury determined DuPont should pay $2 million to an Ohio man who says he got testicular cancer because of the company's negligence over PFOA.
GenX is part of a broader problem of chemicals deployed into industrial production before their risks are clear. For example, researchers are increasingly finding a likely human carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane in water supplies in North Carolina and dozens of other states.
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