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Some North Carolinians are outraged by the planned Chemours expansion

Derek Martin lives about two miles from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility.

The 58-year veteran bought his home in 2003. He worries his pool could be full of PFAS, especially since it’s filled with well water.

“After years of taking it to the pool to…balance the chemicals, they kept telling me, ‘There’s something in your pool that’s stopping you [from balancing] it’ and they couldn’t tell me what it was,” Martin said. “Throughout the years I’ve had the kids, the grandkids, [and] the neighbors swim in this pool. I’ve never had it tested. I asked DuPont to test it and they said they don’t come out testing pools anymore.”

Chemours emerged from the DuPont company and has been its own organization since 2015.

Behind his pool and beside his driveway, an empty, rectangular area was formerly Martin’s garden. He stopped gardening because he didn’t want to risk air or water pollution.

“We used to have about six boxes of raised beds. We have tomatoes, green peppers, [and] Pumpkin… and you can see [there’s] great sun and all,” said Martin, pointing to the area. “We used to eat the vegetables. Nobody told us there was anything wrong with growing up out here.”

Martin said after being badly hit by Chemours’ pollution, he was upset about the planned expansion.

“I’m all for business,” Martin said. “But if they can’t meet government requirements … first of all, before they start this expansion, I’m not for it.”

Martin is referring to the 2019 Consent Order between the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) and Chemours, which requires Chemours to reduce its PFAS emissions and treat contaminated water, among several other remedial actions.

DEQ recently granted Chemours a permit to install a treatment system that will remove PFAS from groundwater before it enters the Cape Fear River. The contaminated groundwater currently flows untreated directly into the river.

Regardless, environmentalists and local residents believe Chemours isn’t doing enough to clean up the pollution.

“The proposed expansion is vicious, greedy, ridiculous nonsense. It’s basically what Chemours and its predecessor have been doing for 40 years: putting profit ahead of people [and] Profit before the environment,” said Dana Sargent, Executive Director of CFRW. “This company has the audacity to say so [expanding would] be good for our community. It’s insulting.”

According to a press release, Chemours is looking to ramp up production of PFA and specialized ionomer membranes as a result of two federal laws passed last month.

PFA is a chemical compound used to make semiconductors. Chemours is the only producer of PFA in the US. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 aims to increase domestic research and production of semiconductors.

Special ionomer membranes are used to generate renewable hydrogen. The Chemours Fayetteville Works site is the only facility in the country that manufactures these membranes. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act aims to boost domestic production of clean energy, including renewable hydrogen.

Dawn Hughes, plant manager at Fayetteville Works, said the planned expansion will improve business opportunities locally and across the state.

“The expansion project will create about 30 new jobs. That’s about a 10-15% increase in employment at our facility,” said Hughes. “[Also]our key suppliers come from communities across North Carolina.”

Hughes answered questions at a public briefing Chemours held at Bladen Community College on September 20 to discuss details of the expansion. Chemours also held a second public event on September 21 in Brunswick County.

Hughes acknowledged the criticism Chemours faces. In response, she said the planned expansion would not create any new emissions. The plant plans to use efficient off-gas cleaning systems that are already in operation.

Last year, DEQ fined Chemours $300,000 for exceeding its GenX emissions limit of £23 per year. GenX is a type of PFAS. Since 2017, DEQ Chemours has reported at least seven violations for noncompliance.

Hughes said Chemours is complying with all legal requirements under the consent order.

“We will continue our ongoing work to reduce and eliminate PFAS emissions,” said Hughes. “Every day we focus and strive for responsible manufacturing. We prove it. And so we will implement the same best available technology in our expansion projects.”

Chemours plans to submit its application for expansion to DEQ in October. After that, state officials will review it and allow public comment. An approval decision could come sometime next year.

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