Trump Administration Ignores PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Threat
Community Groups in North Carolina Condemn Trump Administration for Ignoring the Public Health Threat of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” By Rejecting Their Petition to Require Essential Health and Environmental Effects Studies
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 8, 2021
Co-Petitioners Vow to Continue the Fight for Protection of At-Risk Communities from PFAS Contamination of their Drinking Water by Chemours’ Pollution of Cape Fear River
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, six public health and environmental justice organizations in Eastern North Carolina expressed their deep disappointment and concern over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) denial of their October 14, 2020 petition to address threats to public health from longstanding per- and polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) pollution of Cape Fear communities.
The co-petitioners are Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, NC Black Alliance, Democracy Green, and Toxic Free NC.
The petition asked EPA to use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to require The Chemours Company, a spinoff of Dupont, to fund comprehensive health and environmental effects testing on 54 PFAS manufactured at its production facility in Fayetteville. As a result of decades of pollution, these substances have been found in human blood, drinking water, groundwater, soil, air, and locally produced food adjacent to and downstream from the plant. They pose serious health risks to nearly 300,000 people in impacted communities.
EPA’s petition denial does not dispute the serious health effects concerns associated with PFAS or the extensive contamination of the Cape Fear River basin caused by Chemours. Instead, it seeks to justify its refusal to require testing with a self-serving recitation of its actions on PFAS generally — actions which have been widely criticized as ineffective and inadequate.
Poking small holes in the petition and blowing them out of proportion, the Agency also claims that petitioners failed to demonstrate that there is insufficient information available to assess the health impacts of the 54 PFAS. But it does not deny that there is little or no data on nearly all the 54 substances and that North Carolina residents exposed to these substances lack the scientific knowledge necessary to understand the risks of harm they face. Indeed, EPA itself has acknowledged the lack of meaningful health data for numerous PFAS yet, as the petition denial demonstrates, it has repeatedly refused to hold the companies responsible for PFAS pollution accountable for filling these alarming gaps in information.
Under Donald Trump, protecting the profit margins of corporate polluters has repeatedly taken precedence over public health. EPA’s refusal to require Chemours to fund testing that should have been conducted decades ago is one more example of its willingness to sacrifice public health to protect industry’s bottom line.
The petitioners vowed to use all means available to reverse the petition denial and continue the fight for public health protection of at-risk communities in North Carolina, including by asking the Biden Administration to grant the petition and require the necessary testing.
Co-petitioners offered the following statements:
“It’s preposterous that the EPA has chosen to dilute the intent of the petition and prioritize corporate interest over the needs of the communities affected in North Carolina. This decision reflects the environment the outgoing administration created, poison over our health and profit over the people. We won’t stop here. We will continue to fight against our water being poisoned, and children left without a basic human right of access to clean water,” said La’Meshia Whittington, campaign director for the North Carolina Black Alliance.
“I believe the EPA is lying to North Carolinians, and by extension the rest of America,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear and a mother living in a highly contaminated community. “If, as the EPA suggests, enough scientific data already exists to deny our petition, then where are the drinking water standards for these 54 PFAS? Fish and wildlife recommendations? Fact sheets for medical practitioners and state health departments? The required data doesn’t exist to produce these vital protections. The EPA knows it and my children are still being exposed to these PFAS. My friends and neighbors are sick. My husband almost lost his eyesight to a brain tumor and I’m tired of a government funded by taxpayer dollars refusing to do its job.”
“EPA claims that cell culture-based screening tests can be developed and used to understand the toxicity of thousands of PFAS, however these methods have simply not progressed to the point where they come close to being useful for understanding the effects of PFAS. In fact, the animal and human studies proposed in the petition will produce the very data that EPA needs to validate these more efficient approaches to predict PFAS toxicity,” said Ruthann Rudel, Research Director at Silent Spring Institute.
“Time and time again, EPA has failed to act swiftly and meaningfully when it comes to protecting human health and the environment from PFAS. The denial of this petition is no different from its other failures. EPA would rather spend millions of taxpayer dollars to develop and validate in vitro tests rather than do their job and force polluters to foot the bill for already-validated testing approaches. It is exhausting and frustrating to hear both EPA administrators and scientists, alike, lamenting about PFAS data gaps, but in denying this petition, they have shown that they are unwilling to force fluorochemical manufacturers to fill those gaps,” said Drake Phelps, PhD Candidate at North Carolina State University and member of Clean Cape Fear.
“In denying this petition, which EPA has full authority under law to accept, EPA, yet again, failed to uphold its mission to protect public health and the environment, opting instead to support a multi-billion dollar corporation. Enough is enough.” said Dana Sargent, Executive Director, Cape Fear River Watch.
“Once again Trump’s EPA is shamefully standing with corporations instead of fulfilling its duty to protect the health and wellbeing of hard-working families in North Carolina- and across the US- struggling with one of the biggest environmental threats of our time. Chemours should be paying for the comprehensive health and environmental testing of the chemicals it released from its Fayetteville facility. We call upon the incoming Biden Administration to reconsider this petition and hold Chemours accountable for the risks it took with human health and the environment.” said Michael Green, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Environmental Health.
PFAS “forever chemicals” are a large group of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals that make products water and grease-resistant. They are ubiquitous, found in 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 build up in people and 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, test data for most PFAS are not available.
EPA has broad authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to order manufacturers like Chemours to determine the safety of their products and processes. However, the agency has failed to use this testing authority for PFAS and other chemicals since Congress strengthened TSCA in 2016.
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.