North Carolina Communities File Appeal of Judge’s ‘Misguided’ Decision to Dismiss Lawsuit Compelling EPA to Require Health Testing By Chemours
Contact: Emily DiFrisco, firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Advocates vow to continue the fight to compel EPA to require Chemours to conduct essential studies on health impacts of four decades of PFAS pollution on Cape Fear communities
WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA – Today four North Carolina community and environmental health groups announced that they are appealing to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Judge Richard Meyers’ “disappointing” and “unsound” March 30, 2023 decision to dismiss their lawsuit to order the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require Chemours to fund studies that are vital to protecting the health of North Carolina communities harmed by PFAS pollution. 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 their ability to negatively affect multiple systems of the human body.
The four groups filing the appeal are: Cape Fear River Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, and Toxic Free NC. The appeal seeks review of Judge Myers’ surprising decision to uphold EPA’s claim that it was “granting” the groups’ petition even though in reality EPA failed to require nearly all the health studies requested by the communities. These studies, including an epidemiological study of the exposed population and testing on mixtures of PFAS found in their drinking water, would shed light on whether the 54 PFAS cause cancer, birth defects, damage to the liver and immune system and other harmful effects. Little or no health data are currently available that would help Cape Fear communities, and others like them across the U.S., understand how they have been harmed by PFAS in their drinking water, air, food, and soil.
Just a month and a half ago, the Plaintiffs, alongside local politicians, doctors, farmers, BIPOC community leaders, and local community members impacted by PFAS contamination in the region packed the Federal District Court in Wilmington and gathered later that afternoon at a press conference to share their stories and express their frustration with the EPA for failing to use its authority under the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Amendments to hold Chemours accountable for determining the health impacts of 40 years of contamination in the Cape Fear River basin. But this public plea for health and justice fell on deaf ears.
“This is a troubling and deeply wrong decision that effectively dismantles the powerful judicial remedy granted by TSCA to citizens who unsuccessfully petition EPA for vital public health protections,” said Bob Sussman, counsel for the Plaintiffs and former senior EPA official. “Under the decision, EPA can reject 97 percent of a petition but avoid accountability in the courts by claiming it ‘granted’ the petition. By siding with the Agency, Judge Myers wrote a blank check to EPA and denied communities their day in court without examining the glaring disconnect between what EPA claimed it did and the limited and unresponsive testing it is in fact requiring. Chemours, the polluter that is now off the hook for testing its chemicals, may benefit from this decision but public health will not.”
Alexis Luckey, Executive Director of Toxic Free NC said: “This decision, which blunts the power of TSCA to ensure companies test their chemicals, is yet another injustice for North Carolina communities who have been drinking polluted water for decades. Our communities deserve clean water, they deserve to know the health impacts of contamination, and they deserve a functioning regulatory system that values public health above industry profit.”
Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, said: “Our basic human right to bodily integrity is under attack and our communities deserve access to these health studies. We are appealing this disappointing decision because it serves no one but the chemical companies who continue to hold hostage our regulatory institutions at the expense of our health and wellbeing.”
Dr. Arthur Bowman III, Policy Director at Center for Environmental Health, said: “Just last week, President Biden signed a new Executive Order, ‘Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All’, establishing an Office of Environmental Justice within the White House and committing to strengthening engagement with communities to confront legacy pollution. But his EPA aggressively fought a lawsuit brought by those very same communities after the agency failed to hold Chemours accountable for decades of PFAS contamination of North Carolina drinking water. So, will the White House pursue environmental justice while EPA denies it? By appealing our lawsuit, we are demanding the Administration walk the walk, if it’s going to talk the talk.”
“This ruling sets a dangerous precedent for any communities fighting for protections under the Toxic Substances Control Act. This EPA, and EPAs under future administrations, have now been given carte blanche to continue this semantic trickery to claim they’ve granted petitions while actively denying them – effectively denying the needs of communities and supporting industry polluters,” said Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch.