NC Advocates Ask Biden EPA to Reverse Trump’s Denial of PFAS Petition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2021
Contact: Aimee Dewing at firstname.lastname@example.org
North Carolina Advocates Ask Biden EPA to Reverse Trump Administration Denial of Petition to Require Chemours to Fund Studies on Toxic PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Trump Petition Denial ignores Vital Need for Testing to Help Communities Understand the Health Effects of Long-term PFAS Exposure
FAYETTEVILLE, NC—Today, six public health and environmental justice organizations— Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, NC Black Alliance, Democracy Green and Toxic Free NC — called on the new leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take critical steps to protect the health of North Carolina residents affected by exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) pollution from the Chemours facility in Fayetteville.
The groups asked the EPA Acting Administrator, Jane Nishida, to reverse the Trump Administration’s disappointing and unwarranted January 7, 2021 denial of their October 14, 2020 petition seeking to require Chemours to fund comprehensive health and environmental effects testing on 54 PFAS manufactured at its Fayetteville plant.
These 54 chemicals have been found in human blood, drinking water, groundwater, soil, air, and locally produced food adjacent to and downstream of the plant as a result of emissions and discharges spanning decades. North Carolinians are justifiably worried about the serious health consequences of long-term-exposure to the 54 PFAS but the minimal testing Chemours has conducted fails to provide meaningful answers to concerned Cape Fear communities.
In their request, the groups emphasized that EPA has broad power under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to order manufacturers like Chemours to conduct testing to determine the safety of their products and processes. Congress amended TSCA in 2016 to strengthen EPA’s authority to order chemical manufacturers to pay for testing of toxic chemicals. The Trump Administration shamefully refused to use this authority for PFAS and other chemicals and prioritized industry profits over public health. Now, however, the Biden EPA can reverse this history of indifference and inaction by immediately granting the petition and ordering Chemours to step up and devote its resources to understanding how its chemicals have affected people and the environment in North Carolina.
During the campaign, President Biden and Vice President Harris issued an environmental justice plan committing to strengthen protections against PFAS contamination. Michael Regan, President Biden’s nominee as EPA Administrator and North Carolina environmental director for the last four years, also committed to focusing on PFAS contamination in his Senate confirmation hearing. The North Carolina groups believe that granting their petition is essential to carry out these commitments.
In its petition denial, the Trump EPA acknowledged its high level of concern about PFAS and did not deny that the 54 PFAS may pose serious health risks to the nearly 300,000 residents consuming contaminated drinking water. However, it rejected the petition because petitioners had not “proven” the absence of data for each of the 54 PFAS. This is a red herring. As the federal agency responsible for protecting people and the environment, it was EPA’s job – not petitioners’ – to determine how much information is available on these PFAS and whether it is sufficient to assess the health impacts of PFAS exposure. Since EPA did not do its job, petitioners have now conducted the comprehensive literature search that EPA should have performed. The results demonstrate what EPA should have already known: the limited data available are wholly inadequate to understand the risks of PFAS exposure to North Carolina residents and significantly more testing is needed.
The North Carolina groups also filed suit today in the Northern District of California under section 21 of TSCA to challenge the Trump EPA’s denial of their petition. The groups hope that speedy reversal of the denial by the new EPA Administrator will make litigation unnecessary. However, with an impending filing deadline under section 21 of TSCA, the groups felt it was essential to preserve their legal remedies in the event EPA fails to grant the petition.
PFAS “forever chemicals” are a large group of over 9,000 synthetic chemicals. They are ubiquitous, and they are found in, among other things, non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant carpets, lubricants, firefighting foams, paints, cosmetics, paper plates, and fast food packaging. They are readily transported around the globe and accumulate in our bodies and in wildlife. These chemicals take thousands of years to break down in the environment and can remain in our bodies for decades. Certain PFAS are pervasive in the blood of the US population. Exposure to “forever chemicals” can cause cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, hormone disruption, decreased fertility, immune system suppression, and other serious health effects. However, EPA has admitted that test data for most PFAS are unavailable.
Chemours’ Fayetteville chemical manufacturing facility, located on the Cape Fear River upstream of Wilmington, North Carolina, has long been a major producer and user of PFAS under the ownership of E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, Inc. (DuPont). In 2015, Dupont created spinoff company Chemours after facing millions of dollars in civil suits and increased media attention for its production and use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical known to cause cancer and other health effects that was responsible for widespread contamination of drinking water near the company’s Parkersburg, West Virginia facility. Chemours stopped producing PFOA at the Fayetteville facility because of these issues but the replacement chemicals (called GenX) have been found, along with many other PFAS, in drinking water sources serving over a quarter of a million people in North Carolina.
Review a full copy of the Request for Reconsideration
Review a full copy of the petition.
Read the complaint in our suit challenging the petition denial
Read our FAQs.
Quotes from Co-Petitioners
“This process is backwards and we all know it. Chemours/DuPont should have done these tests before they put them in our air, soil, water, food supply and blood. North Carolinians shouldn’t have to beg the EPA to order a multi-billion dollar chemical company to do its job. Frankly, it’s embarrassing this is happening in America. It’s time for the Biden Administration to make things right,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder Clean Cape Fear.
“The available data on the health risks of these 54 PFAS is woefully inadequate and North Carolina communities are paying an unknown price of exposure. We call on the new EPA administration to demonstrate its commitment to environmental justice by reversing the decision of Trump’s EPA and using its authority to ensure we have the full picture,” said Alexis Luckey, Executive Director, Toxic Free North Carolina.
“Each year, thousands of untested chemicals are made available in daily consumer products. This is absolutely unacceptable, every chemical should be thoroughly tested and approved for safety before made accessible to our communities. In this vein, it is absurd that DuPont/Chemours created PFAS by accident in a lab, proceeded to use this lethal chemical in everyday household products, and then dumped this very chemical into our waterways. Poisoning homes, schools, lands and subsequently the people. Biden Administration, it’s now on you to make this right: hold this corporation accountable and prioritize restitution for our communities,” said La’Meshia Whittington, Campaigns Director, NC Black Alliance.
“Black communities, communities-of-color and low wealth populations consume high rates of PFAS through fast food consumption. Fast food is oftentimes an affordable source of food for working class communities or families in food deserts. The fact that 80 out of 100 North Carolina counties are located in food deserts, means that many North Carolinians rely on fast food meals. It is absolutely criminal to allow a main food source for so many families to be contaminated with such a dangerous chemical. To the Biden Administration we’re calling on you to prioritize the people,” said Sanja Whittington, Executive Director, Democracy Green.
“In the final days of the administration, the Trump EPA denied this petition after failing to act meaningfully on PFAS for years. By reversing the denial of this petition, the Biden EPA can correct this misstep and set the Agency on a path to tackling the PFAS crisis in this country. The testing laid out in this petition would give EPA the data they need to protect human health and the environment from PFAS that have been found in the Cape Fear River, drinking water, produce, and human blood. They have had the power to request this testing for years, and it’s time they stepped up to use it. EPA should no longer claim data gaps prevent action when they have the power to force the chemical industry to fill those gaps,” said Drake Phelps, PhD Candidate at North Carolina State University, Scientific Advisor to the petitioners, and Member of Clean Cape Fear.
“Chemours and DuPont released PFAS into a river used to supply drinking water to nearly 300,000 residents without checking how their releases might harm the health of their downstream neighbors. In the absence of any effort by the companies to protect local residents from exposures to these chemicals that they already knew were likely to be harmful, our request is for EPA to use its legal authority to require Chemours to conduct the testing,” said Ruthann Rudel, Silent Spring Institute.
“EPA’s mission, to protect human health and the environment, was lost on the prior administration, under which EPA protected corporate profits instead. We are counting on the Biden administration, under the leadership of Michael Regan, to do its job and put the burden where it belongs, on the PFAS polluters, whose decades-long reckless and feckless corporate greed created this mess,” said Dana Sargent, Executive Director, Cape Fear River Watch.
“The Trump EPA’s denial of our petition ignores the health needs of nearly 300,000 people in the Cape Fear River watershed who have been exposed to toxic PFAS chemicals for decades. Congress amended TSCA in 2016 to strengthen EPA’s authority to order chemical companies to test their chemicals. The Trump EPA simply refused to use this authority. In stark contrast, the Biden-Harris campaign made specific commitments to address PFAS, including ensuring adequate testing and cleanup of PFAS water contamination, especially in disadvantaged communities. President Biden’s nominee for EPA Administrator, Michael Regan has also committed to addressing PFAS as a top priority. We believe that reconsidering and granting this petition is consistent with the environmental justice commitments made by this Administration and we look forward to working with them to see that this important health testing is being conducted,” said Michael Green, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Environmental Health.