EPA halts import of toxic PFAS waste from Netherlands due to public backlash.
The United States federal government has halted the entry of large amounts of hazardous PFAS “perpetual chemical” waste from the Netherlands, after facing strong opposition from individuals living near a facility in North Carolina that would handle these materials.
Last month, the media reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had discreetly granted a permit to chemical company Chemours to import approximately 4 million pounds of waste in the next 12 months. This raised concerns about additional pollution in an area that is already heavily contaminated due to the company’s activities.
Emily Donovan, co-founder of the non-profit organization Clean Cape Fear, expressed concern that processing a larger quantity of PFAS waste in the local area would have a “devastating” impact.
Donovan expressed frustration with being a PFAS sacrifice zone and witnessing the suffering and death of loved ones.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 15,000 compounds most frequently used to make products water-, stain- and grease-resistant. They have been linked to cancer, birth defects, decreased immunity, high cholesterol, kidney disease and a range of other serious health problems. They are dubbed “forever chemicals” because most do not degrade in the environment.
Chemours, a company created in 2015 as a result of DuPont’s separation, is believed to have caused pollution in the form of PFAS, affecting the air, land, agricultural products, and water over a large area in south-east North Carolina. Numerous individuals claim that this contamination has caused widespread illness and death, leading the United Nations to launch an investigation into potential human rights violations caused by Chemours’ pollution.
In 2019, a state agreement mandated the company to control the pollution at Fayetteville Works. However, in September, the EPA approved up to 100 shipments from Chemours’ Dordrecht plant to Fayetteville through the Port of Wilmington, as seen in an agency document.
Chemours plans to repurpose or utilize excess waste of a specific PFAS compound, known as HFPO-dimer acid or GenX, which is known to be extremely hazardous when exposed to small amounts. It remains uncertain if this method will result in an increase of discharges and pollution at the Fayetteville location.
According to Donovan, the announcement was unexpected and took both community members and health activists by surprise.
She expressed worry about the lack of transparency surrounding this decision, stating that it was made without proper communication to the communities affected by it.
The governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, stated that his administration was not informed about the new permit. In early November, he wrote a letter to the EPA requesting them to revoke their approval of the permit.
Cooper expressed disappointment upon hearing that the EPA had recently granted approval for importation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a temporary halt “due to concerns raised by various parties, including the state of North Carolina” and members of the community.
In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration instructed Chemours to stop transporting waste due to concerns regarding its management and out-of-date information. The company had initially shipped 10 metric tons of waste in 2014, which increased to 250 metric tons by 2018.
A portion of the material was additionally being transported to deep well injection sites, where hazardous waste is stored deep within the Earth’s surface. These wells are susceptible to leaks and can contaminate the groundwater. It is uncertain whether all of the newly shipped PFAS will be reused or if some will be disposed of in the wells.
Between 2014 and at least 2017, a portion of the Dordrecht waste was transported to an Italian facility. However, this resulted in groundwater contamination and led to the suspension of the company’s operations by local authorities.
The reason for the EPA’s shift in stance and approval of the permit is unclear. However, they reportedly told the Dutch media outlet ITL Chemours provided confidential business information in support of the conditional consent.
Due to the presence of stricter regulations on GenX and its classification as a hazardous substance, the Netherlands does not allow for its disposal within the country. The United States government is currently deliberating the designation of GenX as a hazardous substance through various means, but progress has halted according to Donovan.
According to the letter, none of the substances being brought in are considered hazardous waste. This has caused frustration among local residents due to the EPA’s delayed designation process.
According to her, they will intentionally cause a problem and allow it to worsen over time.
The Fayetteville Observer was informed by a Chemours representative that the US plant has permission to receive a maximum of 4 million pounds of waste, but it is likely that the company will import significantly less.
The spokesperson stated that Chemours’ Fayetteville Works has implemented technologies to reduce emissions of fluorinated compounds in compliance with operating permits and levels outlined in the consent order.
Donovan argued that it was illogical to permit additional waste to be brought to a facility that has not yet remediated the contamination in its vicinity.
“We have yet to witness the full extent of the cleanup and restoration efforts that we rightfully deserve for the scale of contamination crisis in this area. And now, the EPA is permitting the importation of a significant amount of GenX waste?” she expressed.