RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality took legal action against a company discharging chemicals into the Cape Fear River on Tuesday, just days after the department's leader refused to commit to a timeline of action in an interview with WBTV.
A DEQ spokesman announced the department had begun enforcement action against Chemours in a press release Tuesday.
Chemours, which owns a chemical plant previously operated by Dupont just south of Fayetteville, came under scrutiny in June after media reports highlighted potential dangers of a chemical made and discharged by the company called GenX.
Previous story: New study finds additional chemicals in Cape Fear River
Last week, the EPA sent a new report to DEQ that identified previously unknown chemicals being discharged by Chemours into the river.
The two chemicals - which are so unknown they do not have names and scientists do not know how toxic they are - are not related to GenX.
In an interview with WBTV last week, NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said her department was working to figure out a long-term way to study whether the chemicals' presence in the water makes it unfit to drink. As of now, Cohen and scientists at NCDHHS have said the water is safe to drink.
But, in that same interview, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan refused to commit to a timeline on whether or when his agency would take enforcement action to stop the company from discharging the newly-identified chemicals into the river.
FULL COVERAGE: GenX Water Investigation
Regan noted DEQ has already asked the company to stop discharging the chemicals but had not gotten a commitment to do so from the company. In response to follow-up questions about how long the agency would take to take additional action, Regan would only say he would do so "immediately."
Regan did not provide a definition of "immediately" - whether it meant action in the coming days, weeks or months - in response to more than a dozen follow-up questions over a four-minute period of time.
INTERVIEW: Click here to watch video of the exchange
On Tuesday, DEQ announced it sent a letter to Chemours demanding the company stop discharging the two newly-identified chemicals by Friday, September 8.
The agency also told Chemours to stop discharging certain other types of chemicals, provide a list of all chemicals discharged into the river and meet other demands previously made by the agency by October 20, 2017 or face losing its permit to discharge any chemical into the river.
At the same time, the North Carolina Attorney General's Office announced it had filed legal action on behalf of DEQ that starts the process of taking Chemours to court regarding its continued chemical discharge.
"Protecting people's drinking water is our top priority, and we've put Chemours on notice that it must stop discharging these chemicals into the Cape Fear River immediately," said Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. "Chemours must stop releasing all fluorinated compounds and fully disclose all chemicals in its waste stream, and we're taking action to make sure that happen."
For the first time since the start of the GenX controversy, DEQ also said flatly in its letter Tuesday that Chemours was never permitted to discharge GenX or related chemicals.
"In fact, the information provided by DuPont and Chemours led DWR staff to reasonably believe that no discharge of GenX had occurred," the agency wrote in its letter Tuesday, citing a meeting in August 2010.
WBTV has previously reported on notes from a meeting in July 2015 that also suggest the company told environmental regulators it was not discharging GenX into the river.