In its first ever Clean Water Act enforcement action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered chemical maker Chemours to take corrective measures at a West Virginia-based facility over high-level PFAS discharges occurring through industrial process water and stormwater into the Ohio River.
The pollution from per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, widely known as PFAS, originates from the Chemours Company’s Washington Works facility, where it produces fluorinated organic chemical products, including fluoropolymers.
Acting Assistant Administrator, Larry Starfield of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated in a press release that he wants to “use every enforcement tool at our disposal to compel manufacturers of PFAS to characterize, control, and clean up ongoing and past PFAS contamination.”
While Chemours has a discharge permit that covers PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, the EPA order states that PFAS levels from the company’s discharges exceed levels that are set in the facility’s Clean Water Act permit. The facility, near Parkersburg, West Virginia, has exceeded permit effluent limits for PFOA and HFPO dimer acid on various dates from September 2018 through March 2023, and failed to properly operate and maintain all facilities and systems required for permit compliance, according to the EPA.
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PFOA was used in the past as a processing aid for the company’s manufacturing, as well as HFPO dimer acid, also known as GenX, which replaced PFOA as a processing aid, according to the EPA.
In 2022, Chemours launched a lawsuit against the EPA over the agency’s characterization of GenX, which the company called “scientifically unsound.” Chemours suggests that GenX is able to be rapidly eliminated from the body.
The discharge of industrial process water and stormwater to the Ohio River and its tributaries is under the terms of a permit issued in 2018 by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company was the permit holder at Washington Works until 2015. In 2015, the permit was transferred to Chemours, according to the EPA.
The EPA order requires Chemours to implement an EPA-approved sampling plan to analyze PFAS and conduct analysis to further understand the presence of PFAS in stormwater and effluent discharged from the facility. The company must also submit and implement a plan to treat or minimize the discharge of PFAS to ensure compliance with numeric effluent limits of PFOA and HFPO dimer acid.
Additionally, Chemours must submit its existing Standard Operating Procedures relating to the management of wastewater for various systems and its revised Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.
In 2021, EPA launched the PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a whole-of-agency approach for addressing PFAS.
Just two months ago, the EPA issued long-awaited drinking water limits for PFAS compounds.