Press Releases

North Carolina Groups File Opening Brief in Continuing Battle to Require Vital Health Studies on Effects of Exposure to Chemours PFAS

Today, the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, and Toxic Free NC took a critical step in their three year battle to compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require health studies to determine the effects on communities of chronic and high levels of PFAS exposures linked to pollution from the Chemours facility in Fayetteville, NC. The groups filed an opening brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to reverse the March 31, 2023 ruling of Trump appointed District Judge Richard E. Meyers II dismissing their case against EPA. 

The community groups sued EPA in 2021 for its failure to use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to hold Chemours accountable for determining the health impacts of 40 years of PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River basin. 

Often called “forever chemicals,” PFAS have raised significant concern in the U.S. and globally because of their persistence in our bodies and the environment, and the risks they carry of causing chronic and deadly illnesses. The Cape Fear River in Eastern North Carolina – a source of drinking water for 500,000 people – has experienced some of the worst PFAS contamination in the U.S. as a result of four decades of pollution by Chemours and its predecessor DuPont.              

Judge Myers upheld EPA’s claim that it was “granting” the group’s petition even though in reality the EPA only agreed to require three percent of the health studies requested by the plaintiffs. The EPA rejected requiring that Chemours fund an epidemiological study of exposed communities; health studies on Chemours-specific PFAS found in residents’ blood; and, testing on mixtures of PFAS found in the local tap water. 

The plaintiffs believe these studies would shed light on whether the PFAS to which communities have been exposed cause cancer, birth defects, damage to the liver and immune system, as well as other harmful effects. They also believe access to this information is foundational to every resident’s basic human rights. Without this crucial health information, exposed residents remain in the dark on how to seek preventative medical treatments for existing exposures or access appropriate medical monitoring.

Researchers found in 2017 that Chemours had been releasing GenX and several other PFAS into the Cape Fear River for four decades. Scientific experts agree residents in NC experienced continual and chronic exposures from contaminated drinking water, air and locally-grown food. Additionally, Chemours has yet to complete court-ordered toxicity studies from a 2019 consent order between the company, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch. 

“EPA is derelict in its duty to protect human health and the environment and while we don’t want to spend our limited resources fighting them in court – they continue to use taxpayer dollars to fight environmental and community groups in support of the multi-trillion-dollar polluting industry; we need to hold them accountable and we need these health studies,” said Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch.

“There are children in our community burying their parents,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear. “We deserve to know if exposures from Chemours’ PFAS caused these untimely deaths and how to provide preventative care and medical monitoring moving forward.”

Bob Sussman, counsel for the community groups, said that “We are continuing this fight because we believe Judge Myers made a serious mistake in accepting EPA’s irresponsible claim that it had granted EPA’s petition when the plain reality was that EPA had refused communities what they desperately needed to understand the impacts of PFAS pollution.” 

Alexis Luckey, Executive Director of Toxic Free NC, said that “North Carolina communities deserve clean water and they deserve to understand how four decades of exposure to ‘forever chemicals’ has impacted our health. We will hold EPA and polluter Chemours accountable until we have these answers.”