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Biden EPA Fails to Protect North Carolina Communities and Hold Chemours Accountable for Massive PFAS Pollution

CONTACT: Emily DiFrisco, (510) 655-3900 x 307


Biden EPA Fails to Protect North Carolina Communities and Hold Chemours Accountable for Massive PFAS Pollution  

While Claiming to “Grant” their Petition, EPA Uses Smoke and Mirrors Strategy to Camouflage Failure to Require Essential Studies to Understand the Health Impacts of Decades of PFAS Pollution 

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA – Six North Carolina community and environmental justice groups are “deeply disappointed” by EPA’s “inadequate” response yesterday to their petition asking the Agency to require Chemours to conduct a critical epidemiological study and health toxicity testing on 54 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are putting hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents at risk. Petitioners said they are considering all options, including litigation, to challenge EPA’s decision. 

The six groups are: Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, the NC Black Alliance, and Toxic Free NC. The testing petition, filed October 14, 2020, asked EPA to require Chemours to fund a comprehensive research program addressing the concerns of Cape Fear communities who have been exposed for decades to numerous PFAS in their drinking water, air, food, and soil because of pollution from the Chemours facility in Fayetteville. Several of these compounds are also present in the blood of North Carolina residents, yet little or no government-backed health data are currently available that would shed light on the harm these communities, and others like them, across the U.S. have suffered.   

EPA’s petition response did not announce any new studies on the 54 PFAS. It said it would require limited testing on 7 of the 54 PFAS, but this testing had previously been announced in October under EPA’s general PFAS testing strategy. In declining to require testing on additional  PFAS produced by Chemours, EPA claimed it could determine their health effects by extrapolating from studies it plans to require on 24 “representative” substances under its testing strategy. This highly theoretical and unproven approach, which is based on complex computational models, rejects the recommendations of petitioners, more than 120 public health organizations, and dozens of leading scientists that EPA should focus testing on those PFAS that directly threaten human health.

Simply put, EPA has had over a year to review the many letters and submissions of petitioners explaining the concerns of North Carolina communities but has completely missed the entire purpose of the petition–to address the  public health needs of a severely contaminated community. Instead, the EPA asserts it is “granting” the petition but in fact is deferring action on petitioners’ testing requests indefinitely. 

EPA refused to commit to requiring the studies that are most important in understanding the human health effects of long-term PFAS contamination on North Carolina communities. In fact, EPA provided no assurance that it would require cancer studies on any PFAS; refused to require an epidemiological study on the exposed human population; and declined to require testing of any of the mixtures of PFAS found in drinking water and human blood. 

In announcing EPA’s PFAS Roadmap in Raleigh, North Carolina on October 18, Administrator Michael Regan acknowledged the “decades of unchecked devastation” that Cape Fear communities have suffered and emphasized the unexplained and serious health disorders residents are battling. He promised to support communities “[n]ot with empty rhetoric, but with real solutions and with a pledge to hold polluters accountable.” 

Unfortunately, EPA’s petition response does not honor these commitments. It does not “hold polluters accountable” and does not “put people first.” 

Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch said, “As the director of an environmental nonprofit who believed in and trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who is also grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken.” 

“My friends and neighbors are going into medical debt while battling rare or recurring cancers, some are spending months in the hospital, while others are wondering if this Christmas will be their last. We deserve access to every health study our petition requested and the EPA has the legal authority to require Chemours pay for them. It’s disappointing to see yet another EPA administration cower to irresponsible chemical companies,” said Emily Donovan, Clean Cape Fear. 

“For decades, our communities have suffered silently from PFAS contaminated water. All the while, polluting corporations have continued to profit from our pain. Our dedicated team of community advocates, legal counsel, and scientists have provided EPA with the tools to clearly and swiftly act to save our communities. We are deeply disappointed that the Biden EPA chose not to use these tools in its response to our petition,” said La’Meshia Whittington, NC Black Alliance.

“North Carolina communities deserve to understand the unique health impacts of decades of exposure to ‘forever chemical’ contamination by Chemours, which this EPA response does not require. We are deeply saddened that EPA will not use its authority to make Chemours compensate for their harms to our state and communities, ” said Connor Kippe, Toxic Free NC.

“We do not intend to accept this decision from EPA, and we do intend to hold Chemours responsible,” said Michael Green, CEO of CEH. “EPA is responsible for protecting our health and the environment, and this decision is not consistent with that.”

Bob Sussman, petitioners’ counsel and former senior EPA official, said that “TSCA was designed so that EPA could hold chemical producers accountable for understanding how their products affect health and environment. EPA has a very strong legal and scientific basis for requiring the studies requested in the petition. It is tragic that EPA is failing to use the authority it has to ensure that manufacturers pay for essential testing on dangerous chemicals that are in the drinking water and blood of hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. EPA is putting the financial interests of industry ahead of protection of devastated front-line communities.”         

Often called “forever chemicals,” PFAS have raised significant concern in the U.S. and globally because of their persistence and potential to bioaccumulate, along with their widespread presence in living organisms, products, and the environment, and demonstrated adverse health effects at low doses. PFAS have been detected pervasively in the blood of workers and the general population, with 99 percent of those sampled showing detectable levels of these compounds. Many communities across the U.S. are struggling with PFAS contamination. If they had granted this petition, the data EPA could have gained–at the polluters’ expense–would support their national PFAS strategy and provide answers to communities across the U.S. and the world. 

Read the scientists’ letter of support.

Read the letter of support from representatives in North Carolina. 

Read the letter of support signed by more than 120 organizations.