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Southeastern North Carolina Communities Rally Around Hearing on Suit to Compel EPA to Require Health Testing By Chemours

Community members to emphasize to Court that their suit against EPA must continue until the agency requires Chemours to pay for studies on health impacts of PFAS pollution 

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA – Environmental groups and concerned North Carolinians will be watching at a Valentine’s Day hearing on the groups’ lawsuit to order the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold the chemical company, Chemours, accountable for funding studies of the impact of PFAS pollution on the health of residents of southeastern North Carolina. Often called “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a significant concern in the U.S. and globally because of their adverse health effects, persistence and long-term accumulation in people and the environment. 

The groups decided to pursue the suit, pending in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, after EPA refused on December 28, 2021 to require Chemours to conduct a comprehensive research program for which the groups had petitioned under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in October 2020. The petition requested that EPA require extensive health studies on 54 PFAS —a small subset of the more than 300 PFAS discharged by Chemours into the Cape Fear River. Many of these substances have been detected in the blood and drinking water of residents but lack health data because Chemours  did not conduct testing despite polluting the River for four decades.   

EPA Administrator Michael Regan acknowledged in October 2021 the heavy burden that   decades of pollution from the Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Facility have placed on exposed communities and the need to hold Chemours accountable, yet the agency is now moving to dismiss the lawsuit on the misleading basis that it “granted” these requests already.. 

The four groups who are suing EPA are: Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, and Toxic Free NC.

EPA’s misleading claim that it “granted” the petition is contradicted by its refusal to require nearly all the health studies requested by the communities. These studies, including an epidemiological study of the exposed population and testing of 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.

Emily Donovan of Clean Cape Fear said: “We raised our children on toxic tap water. For decades the EPA failed to protect us. Now, we’re asking the EPA to right this historic wrong. Give us a fighting chance. Help us learn what our exposures mean. Help clinicians better inform our medical care. We deserve health equity.”

Bob Sussman, counsel for the groups and former senior EPA official, said: “We’ve waited a long time to move this case forward. We believe Judge Meyers must reject EPA’s motion to dismiss and give us our day in court so we can demonstrate why EPA needs to order Chemours to do the important PFAS health studies we requested over two years ago. Both the law and EPA’s commitment to protect Cape Fear communities demand that the Agency use the tools at its disposal to require the tests that North Carolina residents need to understand how four decades of PFAS pollution have impacted their health.”  

Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch said: “Rather than using our resources to fight in court, we should be working together with EPA against this behemoth corporate polluter. The law is on EPA’s side to do the right thing and force Chemours to fund these vital studies.”

“With its announcement of new GenX health advisory levels, EPA has acknowledged that “forever chemicals” are harmful even at low concentrations. Yet the agency still refuses to use its full authority under TSCA to hold Chemours accountable to study the health impacts of widespread, decades-long pollution of our communities. Water across our state is contaminated at levels significantly higher than the new health advisory. North Carolina deserves environmental justice and accountability for polluters,” said Crystal Cavalier-Keck of Toxic Free NC. 

“The courts must protect our right under the law to hold EPA accountable for failing to force Chemours to take responsibility for the human health consequences of years of putting unstudied PFAS into the Cape Fear watershed,” said Dr. Arthur Bowman III of CEH. “Dismissing our case would set a dangerous legal precedent that undermines the authority mandated by Congress and flies in the face of our system of checks and balances by giving EPA unilateral authority to claim it’s ‘granting’ petitions when the facts demonstrate otherwise.” 

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