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NPDES Permits: What You Need To Know

Analies Dyjak |  Hydroviv Policy Analyst

While there’s a lot of debate on what should and shouldn’t be regulated in terms of chemical discharge by companies, we thought that it would be interesting to show how regulations are used in the real-world.  In this article, we talk about the permits that allow entities to discharge chemicals into sewers and waterways.

What Is An NPDES Permit?

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
Permits disclose which chemicals companies are allowed to discharge into waterways, and at what concentrations. The overall goal of a NPDES permit is to provide transparency between the polluter, the federal government and the public.

Who Needs To Get An NPDES Permit?

Any company, organization of private entity that has plans to discharge pollution from a point source into a United States waterway.

How Are NPDES Permits Granted & Distributed?

Technology-based and water quality based limitations are two criteria that are considered when issuing a permit. Technology-based limitations take into consideration the technology and economic ability of the polluters to control the discharge of pollutants from their facilities. Water quality-based limitations are meant to protect the body of water that the effluent is being discharged into.
Once a permitting authority or company completes a Notice of Intent (NOI) for a NPDES permit, it becomes available to the public via the Federal Register. Often local newspapers will publish a notice of the application and provide information regarding public comments.

Where Can I Find an Existing NPDES Permit?

Existing NPDES permits can be found in the General Permit Web Inventory section of the EPA’s website. Required information to search for a NPDES permit includes either the name of a state, permit number, or permitting authority.

What Should A NPDES Permit Include?

  • Information on each known contaminant must be included in a NPDES permit, whether it is regulated by the EPA or not.

  • Clear, concise, and consistent units. When a regulatory agency signs off on a NPDES permit without units, they’re essentially allowing a company to discharge a contaminant at any concentration.

  • Pertinent information that might affect concentration levels.

    • For example seasonal variance or increased turbidity.

  • A NPDES permit should also have information on monitoring such as location and frequency of sampling.

Why You Should Care About NPDES Permitting

Public participation has the ability to prolong the issuing process and can cause a company to alter their plans for dealing with chemical discharge. If you have questions regarding a NPDES permit in your area, don’t hesitate to address your concerns during the required public comment period. Be vigilant in assessing every component of the water discharge permit!

Want To Learn More About NPDES Permits And Water Policy?

Feel free to reach out to our Water Nerds through live chat or email (hello@hydroviv.com).  We're happy to help you out!

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GenX Discharge Into The Cape Fear River:  Breaking Down the Chemours NPDES Permit

GenX Discharge Into The Cape Fear River: Breaking Down the Chemours NPDES Permit

Analies Dyjak | Policy Analyst

In last weeks blog post, we discussed what a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit should look like. This article discusses the major problems with the 2015 Chemours-Fayetteville NPDES permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.  

History Of PFAS Discharge By Dupont/Chemours

In 2015, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issued a renewal NPDES permit to the Chemours Dupont manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Prior to the media spotlight of GenX in the Cape Fear River in the summer of 2017, Chemours (and Dupont) had been receiving permit renewals since the plant was built in the 1970’s. This particular Chemours plant had been illegally discharging PFAS compounds for years. Similar compounds were not listed or identified in the NPDES permit, which immediately raised a red flag. Our team has taken the time to analyze each section of this 2015 NPDES permit renewal.

Problems With The 2015 Chemours Renewal Permit

Units:

First off, there are no units next to the values in the table. The 2015 NPDES permit almost completely lacked uniformity among units. The reader needs to clearly identify if allowable discharge is in mg/kg/day (parts per million), ug/kg/day (parts per billion), and so on. However, Chemours Dupont used “pounds per day” which isn’t constant with the EPA's normal standards of mg/kg/day or ppm. As we discussed in the overview of NPDES permit article, when a permitting agency fails to include units/dosage, they are allowing chemical discharge at any concentration, so long as the total mass does not exceed the stated value.  In doing so, they opened up the door for the permit holder to coordinate discharge schedules with their sampling.  More on this below.

Sampling:

The second issue is sampling. Chemours mainly used a grab sampling technique to test the surrounding Cape Fear water quality. Grab sampling is a daily one-time collection of water at any given location. This means that Chemours was able to determine the location and time for collecting a sample. As you can probably infer, this would allow Chemours to collect their daily grab sample as far away from the point of discharge as possible.  Additionally, this sampling method allows Chemours to collect samples at a time when operation was halted or during a low-discharge period.  Either of these sampling tricks could skew concentration levels and water quality being sent to the EPA.

No Plan To Reduce Discharge:

Finally, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System was created to help reduce pollution in US waterways. Permitting agencies should include a plan on how they’re working to reduce chemical discharge in their NPDES permit.

Summary

The Chemours NPDES permit is one of many inadequate documents distributed by state governments. Although it’s easy to blame the permitting agency, it’s really the fault of the federal government for not supplying an improved uniform template. Federal and state governments should demand more stringent practices from polluters in terms of allowable limits, uniformity in terms of units, and consistent, thorough, sampling techniques.

Although this particular permit seems is inadequate, there are hundreds of active permits in the US that are much worse.  In future articles, we'll be shining some light onto these permits as well.

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