(AP) — North Carolina environmental regulators are delaying penalties against a chemical company for discharging compounds with worrying but little-researched health effects until they’re confident a case will stand up in court, a state official said Wednesday.
The state Department of Environmental Quality has issued two violation notices in less than six months, warned of pending civil penalties and threatened to revoke the permit that legally allows The Chemours Co. plant near Fayetteville to discharge pollutants. Despite that, the agency hasn’t imposed concrete penalties.
Legislators investigating why the chemical GenX has been found in nearby water wells and public drinking water in Wilmington, nearly 100 miles downriver, wanted answers why regulators have held back. GenX is used in the production of Teflon and other non-stick surfaces. Little research exists about the health effects of GenX.
“How much more is Chemours going to get away with before something is done?” asked Rep. Ted Davis, who represents Wilmington and neighboring communities.
State assistant environment secretary Sheila Holman said regulators are being methodical with the prospect of a court challenge in mind.
“We’ve talked before about not taking an action that we can’t defend in court,” she said.
Tests are also trying to determine the extent of related chemicals in Jordan Lake — which supplies water to the cities of Durham and Cary — and at a Marine Corps secondary airfield near the coastal town of Emerald Isle.
Wilmington, Delaware-based Chemours didn’t respond Wednesday to an invitation to comment.
Chemours CEO Mark Vergnano last week told stock analysts the company has been intentionally avoiding public comments about its North Carolina plant while working with regulators on a long-term solution. He said the company is committed to continuing operations at its Bladen County plant.
“We continue to believe that none of the discharges — either before we became an independent company in mid-2015 or after — have adversely impacted anyone’s health,” Vergnano said. The company was spun off by DuPont Co. in 2015.
Both companies reported in annual reports filed last week that they have been subpoenaed repeatedly for information about their operations at the North Carolina plant.
Chemours has received three federal grand jury subpoenas, the company said without specifying where they were issued. DuPont was directed by federal prosecutors in eastern North Carolina last August to provide testimony and documents to a grand jury, the company said. Federal prosecutors then served DuPont with additional subpoenas in the last quarter of 2017.
Earlier this month, Ohio’s attorney general accused Chemours and DuPont of releasing into the environment for decades a harmful chemical that was replaced by GenX. The lawsuit seeks damages and the costs of cleaning up contamination from the chemical — perfluorooctanoic acid, also called C8 — which DuPont used to manufacture Teflon products from the 1950s through 2013.
DuPont and Chemours last year agreed to pay nearly $671 million to settle more than 3,500 federal and state lawsuits filed over the dumping of C8 into the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia.