Holden Beach Newsletter
Chemours has issued a press release announcing that the company will take measures to eliminate byproduct GenX wastewater emissions from its Fayetteville site.
Click here to view the release.
In order to keep citizens informed, Brunswick County has established a website to share information about GenX as they learn it. You can find this page at www.brunswickcountync.gov/genx. The website contains a FAQ section that they update as they learn additional information (or receive additional questions), links to all their press releases and links to other resources like information from NCDEQ. There is also a link where citizens can go to sign up to receive email updates on the topic.
The Public Information Officer for Brunswick County announced that the County has taken legal action against DuPont and Chemours for contaminating the Cape Fear River.
Statement from Brunswick County
The filing of formal legal action against Chemours and DuPont represents another crucial step in protecting our public drinking water supply. It sends a clear message that Brunswick County will simply not stand for the discharge of emerging or unregulated chemicals into our public drinking water supply. Let us be clear…we will ensure that any company that threatens this vital resource is held responsible. Furthermore, our litigation team is consulting the nation’s leading experts to determine the best long-term water testing and treatment methods for the entire county. As part of that, we will ensure that the costs for doing so do not fall upon the rate payers, but upon those dumping the unregulated chemicals in the water.
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Previously reported – October 2021
State to host PFAS, GenX remediation update
Residents can learn from the state next month the current actions underway to prevent and remediate per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contamination at the Chemours Fayetteville Works Facility. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is hosting a remote community information session 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16. The public is invited to participate by phone or online. During the information session, there will be updates from NCDEQ’s air, water and waste management divisions about emission reduction requirements, upcoming permit actions, drinking water well sampling results and replacement water updates, according to the state. Officials from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will provide an overview of knowledge about potential health effects and how to reduce exposure. To dial in, call 1-415-655-0003 and use access code 2427 524 0753. To view the meeting online through WebEx at https://ncdenrits.webex.com/ncdenrits/j.php?MTID=m20e1854b10e617d07b77546e228cf776.
Event password is 1234. After the presentations by state representatives, community members who registered online before the meeting will have an opportunity to ask questions. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions through a chat feature in the web conferencing software. More information about the state’s investigation can be found at https://deq.nc.gov/news/hot-topics/genx-investigation. Information for residents can be found at https://deq.nc.gov/news/key-issues/genx-investigation/genx-information-residents.
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EPA to list PFAS as hazardous as part of new approach
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday an approach to address pollution nationwide from the types of toxic “forever chemicals” that have been plaguing southeastern North Carolina for decades, a plan that includes listing certain of these substances as hazardous under the Superfund Act. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the three-year “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024” Monday to a handful gathered at North Carolina State University’s Lake Raleigh Fishing Pier in Raleigh. Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Elizabeth Biser and Congresswoman Deborah Ross, D-North Carolina, joined Regan for the announcement. The event was streamed live on YouTube, but technical issues frequently interrupted the program for viewers. The strategic roadmap, the result of work by the EPA Council on PFAS that Regan put in place in April, focuses on three strategies: increase investments in research, leverage authorities to act now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released into the environment, and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination, EPA officials said. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, including GenX, are a group of man-made chemicals used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. Research suggests that PFAS breaks down slowly and can accumulate in people, animals and the environment, which can lead to adverse health outcomes, according to the EPA. Regan has long been entrenched in managing PFAS. He was serving as the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality secretary when news broke June 7, 2017, that the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility had for years released PFAS into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for the Wilmington area. President Joe Biden selected Regan earlier this year to serve as the EPA administrator. Regan said that moving to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program would allow the agency to clean up contaminated sites and hold the responsible parties accountable by either having them perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. “The Superfund program has successfully protected American communities by requiring polluters to pay to clean up the hazardous waste and pollution that they themselves have released in our environment,” he explained. “This strategy will leverage EPA existing authority to take bold action to restrict chemicals from entering the land, the air, the water, and land at all levels that are harmful to public health and the environment.” Regan said that the EPA will immediately broaden and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination. When the agency becomes aware of a situation where PFAS poses a serious threat to the health of a community, “we will not hesitate to take swift action, strong enforcement to address the threat and hold polluters accountable, all across the country.” This strategy means EPA will work with other agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department to identify facilities where PFAS have been used and are known to be a source of contamination. Other actions include a final toxicity assessment of the substance known as GenX, “which will ensure that no other community has to go through what the Cape Fear River communities had to endure,” Regan said. Biden has called for more than $10 billion in funding to help address PFAS contamination through the Build Back Better Agenda. “These critical resources will enable EPA and other federal agencies to scale up the research and work, so that they’re commiserate with the scale of the challenges that we all face together,” Regan said. Regan highlighted work taking place in North Carolina, noting that Biser, the DEQ secretary, had recently issued a $300,000 fine to Chemours for failing to meet its obligation to protect state residents. “Secretary Biser is setting the standard, this is the kind of accountability that we want to see all over the country, and that we will work with states to achieve,” Regan said. He noted that across the country, lessons have been learned that can be shared and that every level of government will need to step up to protect the public. He also highlighted the need for continued partnerships with advocacy groups and community activists. Regan said that some may question trust in the EPA because “so many communities have been let down before, time and time again,” adding that the public needs to see action. “I believe that the national strategy that we’re laying out shows and demonstrates strong and forceful action from EPA, a willingness to use all of our authority, all of our tools, all of our talent to tackle PFAS.” He said the EPA pledges to “hold the polluters accountable for the decades of unchecked devastation that they’ve caused.”
- Aggressive timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure water is safe to drink in every community.
- A hazardous substance designation under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as Superfund, to strengthen the ability to hold polluters financially accountable.
- Timelines for action, whether it is data collection or rulemaking, on Effluent Guideline Limitations under the Clean Water Act for nine industrial categories.
- A review of past actions on PFAS taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act to address those that are insufficiently protective.
- Increased monitoring, data collection and research so that the agency can identify what actions are needed and when to take them.
- A final toxicity assessment for GenX, which can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.
- Continued efforts to build the technical foundation needed on PFAS air emissions to inform future actions under the Clean Air Act.
Cooper introduced Regan Monday afternoon, highlighting North Carolina’s and the nation’s need for the plan. “This roadmap commits the EPA to quickly setting enforceable drinking water limits for these chemicals, as well as giving us stronger tools, and giving them to communities, to protect people’s health and our environment. As we continue partnering with EPA on this and other important efforts. It’s critical that Congress pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal, and the larger budget resolution that includes funding to tackle PFAS contamination,” Cooper said. Biser pledged state cooperation. “We all have a lot of work ahead but with coordination at all levels of government, with our elected officials and our public servants, we can protect the communities and the residents throughout North Carolina, and across the nation,” she said.
The Southern Environmental Law Center has been at the forefront of litigation on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch against Chemours in North Carolina to stop GenX and other PFAS pollution. “SELC’s litigation under existing laws led to a consent order among Cape Fear River Watch, the state and Chemours to stop at least 99% of PFAS pollution that contaminated drinking water supplies for about 300,000 people in communities along the Cape Fear River,” the law center said in a statement. Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney with the law center and leader of its Clean Water Program, said in a statement that the roadmap charts a course to important new protections while using existing authority to protect families and communities plagued by PFAS pollution. “We have seen in North Carolina that when permitting agencies require industrial polluters to comply with existing laws, PFAS water pollution can be stopped at the source. EPA’s Roadmap pairs a plan for the future with the tools it currently has to stop ongoing contamination as the agency develops new standards,” Gisler said. “This roadmap, when fully implemented, could change the landscape in our efforts to protect communities from PFAS pollution. On this anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we’re a step closer to achieving its goals. While the roads to standards identified by EPA are necessarily long; the route to stopping ongoing pollution of our streams and rivers can and should be short.” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del, issued a statement that he was encouraged by the EPA’s urgency in dealing with a public health threat. “This is truly a soup-to-nuts plan — one that commits to cleaning up PFAS in our environment while also putting protections in place to prevent more of these forever chemicals from finding their way into our lives. After the previous administration failed to follow through on its plan to address PFAS contamination, EPA’s new leadership promised action. I look forward to working with them on living up to this commitment.” Ken Cook, president of the national nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said that communities contaminated by PFAS had waited decades for action. “So, it’s good news that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden’s pledge to take quick action to reduce PFOA and PFOS in tap water, to restrict industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, and to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances to hold polluters accountable,” Cook said in a statement. “It’s been more than 20 years since EPA and EWG first learned that these toxic forever chemicals were building up in our blood and increasing our likelihood of cancer and other health harms. It’s time for action, not more plans, and that’s what this Administrator will deliver. As significant as these actions are, they are just the first of many actions needed to protect us from PFAS, as the Administrator has said.” Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said that no one should have to worry about toxic chemicals in their tap water. “We’re grateful that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden’s pledge to address PFOA and PFOS in our tap water and will begin to turn off the tap of industrial PFAS pollution.” The Environmental Protection Network is an organization composed of nearly 550 former EPA career staff and political appointees from across the country. The organization’s Betsy Southerland, former director of the Office of Science and Technology in EPA’s Office of Water, called EPA’s approach to restrict or ban current PFAS uses a critical piece of the plan. “The actions detailed in the roadmap are essential first steps in reducing people’s exposure to these extremely dangerous chemicals, especially in communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution,” Southerland said. “While EPA will identify initial PFAS classes in the National Testing Strategy, the agency set tight deadlines for regulating individual PFAS chemicals in air, water, and waste, which will begin to drive stringent treatment requirements. EPA’s success in turning the roadmap into action will require the swift passage of a robust budget to give the agency adequate funding and staffing to get the job done.”
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EPA to publish toxicity assessment, set health advisories for GenX.
Here’s what it means.
The federal government plans to take steps to help public health officials determine the risks associated with a compound that has contaminated hundreds of wells around a Bladen County chemical plant and drinking water in Wilmington and other communities downstream from the facility. The Environmental Protection Agency will release a toxicity assessment “in the coming days” for GenX, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said Monday at an event in Raleigh. The announcement was part of a broader move by EPA to develop a “strategic roadmap” on how to deal with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). GenX belongs to the PFAS family of compounds, which are sometimes known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily. State officials have been investigating GenX since 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News reported that researchers had found the chemical and similar compounds in the Cape Fear River, downstream from the Chemours plant. The company agreed to a consent order that requires it to drastically reduce the amount of GenX it emits into the air. The Chemours plant in Bladen County makes GenX. The compound also is a byproduct of other processes there. GenX and similar compounds have been found in hundreds of wells around the Chemours facility, which is off N.C. 87 near the Cumberland County line. Lisa Randall, a Chemours spokeswoman, said in a statement that company officials have reviewed the EPA roadmap and commend the agency for “compiling a comprehensive, science-based approach.” “While additional detail is needed for many of the initiatives, Chemours is supportive of the framework approach and looks forward to engaging in the process moving forward,” she said. “We believe the voluntary stewardship program recommended by the agency could help achieve meaningful progress in reducing emissions while several of the initiatives work their way through the regulatory process.” Regan said on Monday that the toxicity assessment will help make sure other communities don’t have to go through what those in North Carolina have gone through.
Assessment intended to help health officials
A statement released by EPA officials said the assessment “can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.” The EPA plan says it will publish assessments on hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt, which the plan calls “GenX chemicals.” The compounds have been found in surface water, groundwater, drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions, and are known to impact human health and ecosystems, it says. “Scientists have observed liver and kidney toxicity, immune effects, hematological effects, reproductive and developmental effects, and cancer in animals exposed to GenX chemicals,” the EPA plan says. “Completing a toxicity assessment for GenX is essential to better understanding its effects on people and the environment. EPA can use this information to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.” Chemours officials have said that the amount of GenX in wells around the plant is not harmful. Scott Faber is senior vice president for government affairs with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. He said he will be interested to see if the toxicity assessment causes the EPA to set a lifetime health advisory for GenX. The EPA has issued such advisories for two other PFAS compounds. They are perfluorooctanoic acid, which is known as PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS. PFOA, which also is called C8, was made at the Bladen County facility when it was owned by DuPont. Chemours is a spinoff from DuPont. The EPA could go further by setting mandatory drinking water standards for PFAS, Faber said. North Carolina also could set its own standards as some other states have done, he said. “That might be the quickest way to get GenX out of drinking water,” he said. The EPA plan also says toxicity assessments will be issued for five other PFAS compounds — PFBA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, and PFDA. Three of those compounds — PFHxA, PFNA, and PFDA — and PFOS were found in foam in a Cumberland County stream by state regulators this year. A Chemours spokeswoman said none of those compounds are associated with the plant’s processes. The EPA plan said that the agency expects to issue health advisories for GenX and another PFAS compound called PFBS next year. EPA published a toxicity assessment for PFBS in April. The health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory but will help state and local officials determine if they need to take actions to address public health impacts, the plan said. “Health advisories offer a margin of protection by defining a level of drinking water concentration at or below which lifetime exposure is not anticipated to lead to adverse health effects,” it said. “They include information on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies and are designed to protect all life stages.”
EPA roadmap sets timelines
The EPA plan also sets up timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act, strengthens the ability to hold polluters accountable, and reviews previous actions by the agency regarding PFAS, according to the statement. The plan also calls for increased monitoring, data collection and research, it said. Faber said the plan represents the first time the administration of a president of either political party has set up timelines for which it can be held accountable. U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 8th District, released a statement about the EPA roadmap. “I’m glad to see the EPA give these toxic forever chemicals the attention they deserve,” he said. “We need a comprehensive and reasonable approach to combat PFAS and I look forward to reviewing the EPA’s Roadmap.” Hudson thanked Regan for developing the initiative. “I will continue to work with the Administrator and my colleagues in Congress to make sure citizens near the Cape Fear River and throughout our region have access to safe drinking water,” he said. State Sen. Kirk deViere represents Cumberland County, which he called “ground zero for GenX contamination.” He said in a statement released Monday that he applauds the EPA action, but more must be done. “While this announcement provides a roadmap, we need timely action to provide clean water now to the thousands of residents of Cumberland County who have contaminated wells,” he said. “The ultimate solution cannot be simply offering bottles of water to residents or installing under-the-sink filters.” Bold leadership is needed by state officials and Chemours to be sure residents get clean water, deViere said. “This is a public health crisis and the time for drastic immediate improvement is now,” he said.
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How Chemical Companies Avoid Paying for Pollution
DuPont factories pumped dangerous substances into the environment. The company and its offspring have gone to great lengths to dodge responsibility.
One humid day this summer, Brian Long, a senior executive at the chemical company Chemours, took a reporter on a tour of the Fayetteville Works factory. Mr. Long showed off the plant’s new antipollution technologies, designed to stop a chemical called GenX from pouring into the Cape Fear River, escaping into the air and seeping into the ground water. There was a new high-tech filtration system. And a new thermal oxidizer, which heats waste to 2,000 degrees. And an underground wall — still under construction — to keep the chemicals out of the river. And more. “They’re not Band-Aids,” Mr. Long said. “They’re long-term, robust solutions.” Yet weeks later, North Carolina officials announced that Chemours had exceeded limits on how much GenX its Fayetteville factory was emitting. This month, the state fined the company $300,000 for the violations — the second time this year the company has been penalized by the state’s environmental regulator. GenX is part of a family of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. They allow everyday items — frying pans, rain jackets, face masks, pizza boxes — to repel water, grease and stains. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to cancer and other serious health problems. To avoid responsibility for what many experts believe is a public health crisis, leading chemical companies like Chemours, DuPont and 3M have deployed a potent mix of tactics. They have used public charm offensives to persuade regulators and lawmakers to back off. They have engineered complex corporate transactions to shield themselves from legal liability. And they have rolled out a conveyor belt of scantly tested substitute chemicals that sometimes turn out to be just as dangerous as their predecessors. “You don’t have to live near Chemours or DuPont or 3M to have exposure to these things,” said Linda S. Birnbaum, the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “It is in the water. It is in our food. It’s in our homes and in our house dust. And depending on where you live, it may be in our air.” PFAS substances are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and can accumulate in the environment and in the blood and organs of people and animals. When the compounds get into water supplies, the effects can be devastating. Around Madison, Wis., residents are advised not to eat the fish from nearby lakes. In Wayland, Mass., residents are drinking bottled water because the tap water is contaminated. In northern Michigan, scientists found unsafe levels of PFAS in the rain. Most Americans have been exposed to at least trace amounts of the chemicals and have them in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research by chemical companies and academics has shown that exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, liver damage, birth defects and other health problems. GenX was supposed to be a safer alternative to earlier generations of the chemicals, but new studies are discovering similar health hazards. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was going to start requiring companies to test and publicly report the amount of PFAS in the products they make. It is an early step toward regulating the chemicals, though the E.P.A. has not set limits on their production or discharge. The E.P.A. administrator, Michael S. Regan, who announced the new rules, previously was the top environmental regulator in North Carolina, where he clashed with Chemours over its GenX pollution. “PFAS contamination has been devastating communities for decades,” Mr. Regan said. “I saw this firsthand in North Carolina.” The situation in Fayetteville is in many ways emblematic of the battles being waged in communities nationwide. Pollution from Fayetteville Works has shown up in drinking water as far as 90 miles away from the plant. Chemours argues that most of the pollution in North Carolina occurred long before it owned Fayetteville Works. DuPont, which built the factory in the 1960s, claims it can’t be held liable because of a corporate reorganization that took place several years ago. DuPont “does not produce” the chemicals in question, “and we are not in a position to comment on products that are owned by other independent, publicly traded companies,” said a DuPont spokesman, Daniel A. Turner. Both companies have downplayed the dangers of their chemicals and opted for occasional piecemeal fixes rather than comprehensive but costly solutions that would have protected the environment, according to interviews with scientists, lawyers, regulators, company officials and residents and a review of previously unreported documents detailing the industry’s tactics.
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Previously reported – November 2021
EPA assessment: GenX more toxic than thought; health effects might include liver, immune system
The Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment Monday showing that GenX, a chemical made at a Bladen County plant, is more toxic than previously believed. The toxicity assessment for hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt, which the EPA calls GenX chemicals, determined a daily ingestion level at which a person is unlikely to face adverse health effects, according to the EPA website. During a similar review in 2018, agency officials set that chronic “reference dose” at a level more than 26 times this year’s assessment. The EPA’s review talked about possible health effects. “Animal studies following oral exposure have shown health effects including on the liver, kidneys, the immune system, development of offspring, and an association with cancer,” it said. “Based on available information across studies of different sexes, life stages, and durations of exposure, the liver appears to be particularly sensitive from oral exposure to GenX chemicals.” EPA officials say the assessment will help public health officials determine the risks associated with GenX. The Chemours company manufactures GenX at its plant in Bladen County. The chemical also is a byproduct of other processes there. GenX belongs to a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily. The Chemours company manufactures GenX at its plant in Bladen County. The chemical also is a byproduct of other processes there. GenX belongs to a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The compounds are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily. State officials have been investigating GenX since 2017, when the Wilmington Star-News reported that researchers had discovered the chemical and similar compounds in the Cape Fear River, downstream from the Chemours plant. The company agreed to a consent order that requires it to drastically reduce the amount of GenX it is emitting into the air.
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EPA releases final GenX human health toxicity assessment
The release Monday of the Environmental Protection Agency’s final human health toxicity assessment for GenX chemicals represents a key step in advancing the scientific understanding of these toxins and their effects on human health, officials said Monday. Across the country, including in southeastern North Carolina, GenX chemicals, part of the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, group, have been found in surface water, groundwater, drinking water, rainwater, and the air. The final GenX chemicals toxicity assessment is a step closer to developing a national drinking water health advisory for GenX chemicals, which the agency committed to publishing in Spring 2022 as part of the PFAS Roadmap that EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan’s announced the PFAS Roadmap last week. The roadmap details the whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS. During his announcement Oct. 19 he said to expect the release of this final assessment. “Research establishes a foundation for informed decision making and it is one of the central strategies of EPA’s PFAS Roadmap,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox in a statement. “This science-based final assessment marks a critical step in the process of establishing a national drinking water health advisory for GenX chemicals and provides important information to our partners that can be used to protect communities where these chemicals are found.” The final assessment for GenX chemicals looks at the potential human health effects associated with oral exposure. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents Cape Fear River Watch in litigation to stop pollution into the Cape Fear River from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility in North Carolina. News broke of the pollution in June 2017, while Regan was North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality’s secretary. The final human health toxicity assessment for GenX underscores the importance of regulating PFAS as a class of chemicals and the need to stop harmful pollution at its source under existing laws, according to the center. “Today’s toxicity assessment is further confirmation that the more we learn about these chemicals, the more we learn that they must be treated as a class; no community should have to suffer from harmful PFAS as we wait for research to confirm their toxicity,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and leader of the Clean Water Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center who led litigation against Chemours in North Carolina. “This more stringent GenX toxicity assessment is why it’s so vital to our families and communities that DEQ, and state agencies nationwide, must impose stringent limits on PFAS using existing authority when issuing water permits to polluters.” The law center’s litigation led to a consent order among Cape Fear River Watch, the state and Chemours to stop at least 99% of PFAS pollution at its source that contaminated the Cape Fear River, according to the release.
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Chemours responsible for New Hanover contamination, NC DEQ says
State officials have determined Chemours is responsible for contaminating New Hanover County’s water supply. The company, which has a plant on the Cape Fear River, also is responsible for contaminating groundwater monitoring wells in New Hanover County and also might be responsible for contaminations in Pender, Columbus and Brunswick counties, according to a statement released Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ is requiring Chemours to “assess the extent of contamination in downstream communities to include well sampling and provision of replacement drinking water supplies,” according to the statement. DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said contamination from Chemours extends to multiple communities down the Cape Fear River. The company’s actions to address the communication must reach those communities, she said. “DEQ will continue to take the necessary steps to provide relief to affected North Carolinians as the science and regulations require,” she said.
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State to force Chemours to test downstream wells for PFAS
The state is requiring Chemours to take more action to address GenX and PFAS contamination into the Cape Fear River from the Fayetteville Works facility, especially that affecting private well owners. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which includes GenX, are widely used, man-made toxins often called “forever chemicals” that break down very slowly over time and build up in humans, animals and the environment, according to the EPA. Studies show that exposure to some of these chemicals may be linked to harmful health effects. First, Chemours must assess the extent of contamination in communities downstream, to include well sampling and provision of replacement drinking water supplies, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality officials said Wednesday. Second, Chemours is required to review existing well sampling in communities surrounding the Fayetteville Works facility to determine additional eligibility for whole-house filtration and public water, in light of the revised Toxicity Assessment for GenX from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The contamination from Chemours extends down the Cape Fear River into multiple communities and Chemours’ actions to address that contamination must reach those communities as well,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser in a statement. “DEQ will continue to take the necessary steps to provide relief to affected North Carolinians as the science and regulations require.” Copies of the notifications to Chemours are online. DEQ officials said the department has determined that Chemours is responsible for contamination of groundwater monitoring wells and water supply wells in New Hanover County and possibly Pender, Columbus, and Brunswick counties. “Chemours is required to expand the off-site assessment required under the 2019 Consent Order to determine the extent of the contamination. Chemours must also conduct sampling of private drinking water wells to identify residents who may be eligible for replacement drinking water supplies. Chemours must submit plans to DEQ for approval,” officials said. Regarding the second action, officials said Chemours had been advised that the EPA will be releasing a federal drinking water health advisory level for GenX in the coming months. The 2019 Consent Order requires Chemours to provide replacement permanent drinking water to private wells with “detections of GenX compounds in exceedance of 140 ng/L (nanogram per liter), or any applicable health advisory, whichever is lower.” In advance of a likely EPA health advisory level below 140 nanogram per liter, DEQ is requiring Chemours to review existing well sampling data to identify residents who would be entitled to public water or whole house filtration under a revised health advisory level. Chemours must revise the assessment of public water feasibility for all affected residents under a lower health advisory level. DEQ is also requiring Chemours to create a plan to transition residents who have previously received reverse osmosis systems based on GenX results to either public water or whole-house filtrations systems as appropriate under a lower GenX health advisory level. “I want to thank DEQ and Secretary Biser for taking these steps to require action from Chemours, so they take responsibility for the PFAS contamination they have caused in our community,” said New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman in a statement. “It is important for our residents to be provided with the same protections as those who are close to the Chemours plant, and that means testing and monitoring the groundwater wells in our county and providing bottled water and then a permanent filtration or connection to a public water supply if elevated PFAS are detected,” she said. “New Hanover County has advocated to be included in the Consent Order, and today’s actions are a positive step towards that. We will continue to do all we can to support DEQ’s efforts and ensure our residents have access to safe drinking water.” Lisa Randall, regional communications lead for Chemours, provided the following statement on behalf of the company: “Chemours is a part of the solution to addressing PFAS contamination in North Carolina, and we will continue working with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), as we have been for several years, to move forward with efforts to address PFAS found in the environment related to our Fayetteville Works manufacturing site. We have worked closely with NCDEQ on implementation of on-site and off-site programs, including a private well sampling program, as part of the consent order agreement between Chemours, Cape Fear River Watch and the state of North Carolina. “We are continuing to review the NCDEQ correspondence we just received and will follow-up with the agency for further clarification of their correspondence.”
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Previously reported – January 2022
EPA orders chemical makers to test toxicity of PFAS, giving NC residents a partial victory
Chemical makers who produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, must start testing the toxicity of their products, according to a new decision recently announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA’s ruling is a partial victory to six North Carolina community and environmental justice groups who petitioned the government to require Chemours, a chemical maker outside Fayetteville, to start testing its substances as part of an ongoing environmental disaster in southeastern North Carolina. The StarNews first reported in 2017 that Chemours, and DuPont before them, had contaminated the Cape Fear River with PFAS chemicals for more than 30 years. More than 250,000 North Carolinians have been exposed to toxic levels of PFAS chemicals, but understanding the health consequences of that exposure has been a challenge since little is known about PFAS chemicals. By granting the petition, EPA will use its federal authority to require chemical companies to begin testing what risk PFAS chemicals may present to humans. Those companies may be compelled to fund that research and disclose the results to the government. “Today’s actions advances the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to improve understanding of, and to protect people from, the potential risks of PFAS,” according to the news release from the EPA. The EPA’s decision “deeply disappointed” the six groups in North Carolina who filed the petition, according to a news release from the groups. The groups felt EPA’s response was “inadequate” and doesn’t go far enough to hold Chemours and other companies responsible. The environmental groups aren’t accepting the government’s decision, and said they are considering their options, including litigation, to compel it to do more, according to the news release. The six groups include the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, the NC Black Alliance and Toxic Free NC. “Simply put, EPA has had over a year to review the many letters and submissions of petitioners explaining the concerns of North Carolina communities but has completely missed the entire purpose of the petition to address the public health needs of a severely contaminated community,” according to the joint news release.
The contamination of the Cape Fear River in southeastern North Carolina stems from the Fayetteville Works plant outside Fayetteville. The sprawling chemical plant is owned today by Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont. For decades the two companies allowed PFAS chemicals to seep into the ground, air and river around the plant, exposing more than a quarter of a million North Carolinians to chemicals that early studies suggest can cause an increased risk of developing various diseases including cancer. The water disaster unfolded over nearly 40 years, and for much of that time Chemours and DuPont allegedly knew what was happening, but decided to cover up the contamination, according to a lawsuit filed against Chemours and DuPont by the state of North Carolina. Chemours has been forced to contain the leak, and pay $12 million to the state for its actions. In the wake of the disaster, researchers have started working with affected residents to understand what risks PFAS might present to humans. Scientists in North Carolina have established that many residents have extremely high amounts of PFAS in their blood. In October the EPA announced GenX, one of the PFAS chemicals that leaked into the Cape Fear, was more toxic than it previously estimated. It stated based upon animal studies that oral exposure to GenX has shown negative health effects on the liver, kidneys, immune system, the development of offspring and can cause cancer. In Wilmington, researchers estimate residents ingested approximately 700 parts per trillion of PFAS every day for more than 30 years. That exposure is roughly five times the exposure goal set by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
A reversal of decisions
In October the EPA announced a national PFAS testing strategy, and the agency’s decision this week is largely a continuation of that strategy. In the first of what could be multiple phases of testing, the EPA plans to test 24 PFAS substances and extrapolate that data out to 2,950 other PFAS chemicals in the same categories as the initial 24 substances. The six North Carolina groups originally asked the EPA to require Chemours to test 54 PFAS chemicals that the groups had found in the Cape Fear River. In announcing its decision this week, the EPA will require chemical companies to test for only 30 PFAS chemicals as part of its new national testing strategy. Nine of the 24 PFAS substances excluded from the EPA’s decision could be part of future testing by the agency, according to the EPA, and the other 15 chemicals mentioned in the petition “do not fit the definition of PFAS used in developing the testing strategy.” EPA’s decision this week is a complete reversal from what the agency decided nearly a year ago. In the last days of the Trump administration, the EPA initially rejected the petition.The six North Carolina groups asked the agency to reconsider in March of this year, hoping the change in administration would lead to a better outcome. The Biden administration agreed to reconsider the petition in September and ruled on it this week.
‘Biden EPA fails to protect North Carolina’
Current EPA Administrator Michael Regan has been involved in the Cape Fear River water contamination for several years. Regan served as the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality before becoming EPA administrator, and during his tenure, he was able to enter the state and Cape Fear River Watch into a consent order with Chemours to bring the contamination under control. In announcing the EPA’s decision, Regan acknowledged that communities across North Carolina “deserve to know the potential risks that exposure to PFAS pose to families and children,” Regan said. “By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people,” Regan said. But a day after the EPA’s decision, the six environmental groups issued their response to the agency’s actions, and part of their reaction was aimed directly at Regan. “In announcing EPA’s PFAS Roadmap in Raleigh on Oct. 18, Administrator Michael Regan acknowledged the ‘decades of unchecked devastation’ that Cape Fear communities have suffered and emphasized the unexplained and serious health disorders residents are battling,” according to the press release. “Unfortunately, EPA’s petition response does not honor these commitments,” the press release added. North Carolinians are going into medical debt battling rare and recurring forms of cancer because of PFAS contamination, said Emily Donovan of Clean Cape Fear. These residents deserve to have access to every health study possible to understand the risks they face. That’s what the petition asked for and the EPA has the legal authority to compel Chemours to pay for those studies, Donovan said. “As the director of an environmental nonprofit who believed in and trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who is also grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken,” said Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch. Michael Green, CEO of CEH added, “We do not intend to accept this decision from EPA, and we do intend to hold Chemours responsible. EPA is responsible for protecting our health and the environment, and this decision is not consistent with that.”
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EPA grants petition requiring PFAS testing, local groups say it doesn’t go far enough
The Environmental Protection Agency has granted a petition that will compel companies that produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to conduct testing on health effects. However, environmental activists who submitted the petition say the EPA didn’t go far enough with their requirements. “EPA’s petition response did not announce any new studies on the 54 PFAS. It said it would require limited testing on 7 of the 54 PFAS, but this testing had previously been announced in October under EPA’s general PFAS testing strategy. In declining to require testing on additional PFAS produced by Chemours, EPA claimed it could determine their health effects by extrapolating from studies it plans to require on 24 ‘representative’ substances under its testing strategy,” according to a statement released by the petitioners on Wednesday. “This highly theoretical and unproven approach, which is based on complex computational models, rejects the recommendations of petitioners, more than 120 public health organizations, and dozens of leading scientists that EPA should focus testing on those PFAS that directly threaten human health,” it continued. The EPA, however, says this is a good step towards providing people with potential risks of the substances being released into the air, water, and even ground. “Communities in North Carolina and across the country deserve to know the potential risks that exposure to PFAS pose to families and children,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release. “By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people. This data will also help us identify the sources of pollution so we can hold those accountable for endangering the public. EPA is fully committed to addressing this longstanding pollution challenge, and today we take another critical step forward to protect the water, air, and land we all depend on.” The petition was first filed in October of 2020 by the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, Toxic Free NC, and the NC Black Alliance. It requested the EPA “require health and environmental effects testing on 54 chemical substances the petition identifies as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) released into the environment by The Chemours Company (Chemours) at its chemical production facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.” However, the petitioners disagree with the press release and say it does not do what they had asked for, specifically, testing to determine the impacts these substances have on people. “As the director of an environmental nonprofit who believed in and trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who is also grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken,” Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch said. While the request specifically referred to Chemours, the EPA’s plan is aimed at all producers of these substances. “EPA plans to require PFAS manufacturers to provide the agency with toxicity data and information on categories of PFAS. EPA expects to exercise its TSCA section 4 order authority to require recipients of test orders to conduct and fund the studies. The information gathered as a result of this testing will help EPA deepen its understanding of the impacts of PFAS, including potential hazards. As the agency learns more about the impacts of PFAS, EPA will continue to take action to protect human health and the environment,” according to the agency. As far as human testing goes, the EPA is not conducting the testing that the petition requests. Instead, the agency says there are already ongoing human impact studies. “EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to further advance and expand on these efforts,” according to the EPA. “The EPA asserts it is ‘granting’ the petition but in fact is deferring action on petitioners’ testing requests indefinitely,” according to the press release from the petitioners. “EPA refused to commit to requiring the studies that are most important in understanding the human health effects of long-term PFAS contamination on North Carolina communities. In fact, EPA provided no assurance that it would require cancer studies on any PFAS; refused to require an epidemiological study on the exposed human population; and declined to require testing of any of the mixtures of PFAS found in drinking water and human blood.”
The EPA also listed a summary of the order which is listed below:
- “Near-Term Testing Covers 30 of 54 Petition Chemicals – EPA’s first test orders for 24 data-poor categories of PFAS under the Testing Strategy will provide data that cover 30 of the 54 petition chemicals.
- Subsequent Testing May Cover 9 of 54 Petition Chemicals – An additional 9 PFAS identified in the petition belong to one other category included in the Testing Strategy. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing.
- Remaining 15 of 54 Petition Chemicals – Fifteen chemicals identified in the petition do not fit the definition of PFAS used in developing the Testing Strategy. EPA has determined that there is robust data on some of them available to the Agency. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing.
- Mixtures studies – EPA will address PFAS mixtures by using the toxicity of the individual substances to predict the toxicity of the mixture, an approach which is consistent with the current state-of-science on PFAS. EPA is proceeding with development and peer review of such methods as specifically applied to PFAS.
- Human studies – EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to further advance and expand on these efforts.
- Analytical standards – EPA does not believe it is appropriate to require the development or submission of analytical standards with the initial test orders that will be issued under the Testing Strategy, but has requested comment on whether to require the submission of existing analytical methods for PFAS under a separate rulemaking proceeding the Agency expects to finalize next year.”
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Previously reported – April 2022
Chemours to further limit GenX emissions, add more testing
Chemours has agreed to further limit GenX emissions, conduct additional testing and pay the six-figure penalty assessed last year by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality. The Division of Air Quality and Chemours signed a settlement agreement Tuesday requiring Chemours to reduce GenX emissions from the carbon adsorber unit, an emissions control device, in the vinyl ethers north manufacturing area to no more than an average of 1 pound per month between May and September of this year. Fugitive emissions from the vinyl ethers north area are primarily controlled by the carbon adsorber unit, which is a separate system from the onsite thermal oxidizer. Chemours’ facility-wide emissions are limited to 23.027 pounds per year under the current air permit. Chemours also is required to take additional actions this year to reduce emissions, including installing new process and emission control equipment. The company must follow a rigorous schedule of stack tests to measure how well the carbon adsorber unit at vinyl ethers north is controlling emissions. Chemours will also pay in full the $305,000 penalty, which the Division of Air Quality assessed last year after finding Chemours was in violation of the stringent GenX emission requirements of its air permit, which requires Chemours to limit its total GenX emissions to 23.027 pounds per year, using a rolling 12-month calculation. This limit equates to a 99% reduction from GenX emissions in 2017. Excess GenX emissions in March 2021 resulted in noncompliance with the rolling 12-month limits from March through September of last year. In October 2021, the division issued a written Notice of Violation and Notice of Recommendation for Enforcement to Chemours. DAQ noted the Carbon Adsorber Unit was not properly operated or maintained for 26 days following its March 9, 2021, stack test. Chemours filed a Petition for a Contested Case Hearing in response to DAQ’s civil assessment. Today’s settlement resolves DAQ’s civil penalty and Chemours’ petition. Lisa Randall, regional communications lead for Chemours provided Coastal Review with the following statement: “Chemours has reached an agreement with NCDEQ regarding the agency’s 2021 notice of violation (NOV) for exceeding the 12-month rolling average for Fayetteville Works’ site HFPO-DA air emissions. Chemours has agreed to pay the $305,000 civil penalty assessed by the agency and will also dismiss its administrative appeal of the NOV. Chemours has also agreed to take additional steps toward reducing air emissions. NCDEQ has agreed to not issue additional NOVs related to the rolling calculation for the remainder of the 12-month period as long as agreed-to-emission limits are met. Chemours continues to make progress on all requirements of the Consent Order agreement with NCDEQ and Cape Fear River Watch and remains committed to being a leader in reducing PFAS emissions.”
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Previously reported – June 2022
More toxic than previously thought: EPA slashes PFAS exposure limits based on new information
Years of animal and human testing reveal four PFAS chemicals are far more toxic than originally thought. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced four new national health advisories, cutting lifetime exposure limits to a fraction of what was previously thought to be safe. EPA issued new health advisories for GenX and PFBS, and interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS on Wednesday at the National PFAS Conference, currently being held in Wilmington. EPA’s actions come five years after GenX and other PFAS chemicals were discovered in the Cape Fear River, having been put there by chemical makers DuPont and Chemours. For more than 30 years, the two companies released hundreds of PFAS compounds, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, into the river, air and groundwater, contaminating the drinking water source of more than 300,000 people. State officials began investigating GenX and other PFAS chemicals in 2017, after a StarNews investigation revealed Chemours and DuPont’s actions. Chemours said it’s evaluating its next steps, which could include legal action against EPA’s “scientifically unsound action,” according to a statement from the company following the federal agency’s announcement. “At Chemours, we support government regulation based on the best available science. While EPA claims it followed the best available science in its nationwide health advisory for (GenX), that is not the case,” according to Chemours’ statement.
What are the new levels?
Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, announced the agency’s new health advisories at the National PFAS Conference. Fox explained the new health advisories were a result of years of research. “The updated advisory levels are based on new science including more than 400 recent studies, which indicate some negative health effects may occur at extremely low levels, much lower than previously understood for both PFOA and PFOS,” Fox said. Human studies found associations between PFOA and PFOS exposures and effects on the immune system, cardiovascular system, developmental issues with infants and cancer, according to EPA. Animal testing revealed links between GenX and effects on the liver, kidney, immune system, developmental effects and cancer. EPA’s new health advisory sets a lifetime exposure limit of 10 parts per trillion for GenX. EPA’s new GenX exposure limit will replace the 140 part per trillion drinking water health goal set by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in 2018, according to a press release from the agency. EPA’s previous drinking water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS limited exposure to less than 70 parts per trillion. Based on new toxicity testing, EPA curtailed exposure limits to 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. For context, not a single surface water test for GenX, PFOA and PFOS at Chemours’ Outfall 002 site tested below EPA’s new health advisories, according to DEQ testing data from 2018-2021. The median concentration of GenX in tested water was 125.5 parts per trillion, more than 12 times EPA’s new level, according to DEQ data. The median concentration of PFOA was 10.55 parts per trillion, and 14.2 parts per trillion for PFOS. EPA also announced a final health advisory for PFBS, a fourth PFAS compound, of 2,000 parts per trillion, according to EPA’s press release.
What this means for the public
Following EPA’s announcement, DEQ announced it and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was “moving quickly to evaluate the state’s drinking water supplies based on these health advisories and determine appropriate next steps to assess and reduce exposure risks,” according to DEQ’s press release. DEQ estimates more than 1,700 additional private well owners affected by Chemours’ contamination will now be eligible for whole-home filtration systems or connection to public water systems, according to DEQ’s press release. DEQ has directed Chemours to begin installing these new systems as soon as possible. Data on PFOA and PFOS levels in North Carolina’s private drinking water wells and public water systems are limited, according to DEQ’s press release. However, available data indicates the presence of one or both compounds in “multiple” public water systems across the state. “DEQ and DHHS are evaluating the available data in light of these new health advisories to identify potentially affected communities and take action to address impacts to North Carolina residents,” according to the press release.
New advisories receive mixed reaction
EPA’s announcement was met with mixed reactions. A room of environmentalists, scientists and more applauded EPA’s new PFAS health advisories. However, EPA’s announcement was met by criticism and condemnation from the chemical industry. In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, which represents numerous chemical companies, said it supports creating water standards for PFAS based on the best available science. The ACC echoed Chemours’ accusation that EPA didn’t use the best available science to establish its new PFAS health advisories. “Today’s announcement of revised lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS and new advisories for PFBS and the GenX chemicals reflects a failure of the agency to follow its accepted practice for ensuring the scientific integrity of its process.” Environmental groups, however, celebrated EPA’s new advisories. The Southern Environmental Law Center applauded EPA’s new health advisories, said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and leader of the SELC’s Clean Water Program. SELC encouraged state environmental agencies and EPA to use existing law to reduce PFAS emissions farther. “EPA’s stringent new health values for several toxic ‘forever chemicals’ will save lives and ensure a healthier environment for all of us,” said Brian Buzby, executive director of the NC Conservation Network.
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- Previously reported – July 2022
Chemours challenges EPA health advisory for GenX
The Chemours Company is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for its recent health advisory for GenX, one of the contaminants discharged for years into the Cape Fear River from the company’s plant in Fayetteville. Chemours is challenging the EPA’s review of the agency’s health advisory for hexafluoropropylene oxide dime acid, or HFPO-DA (GenX), arguing the agency failed to use the best available science when making its determination. “Nationally recognized toxicologists and other leading scientific experts across a range of disciplines have evaluated the EPA’s underlying analysis and concluded that it is fundamentally flawed,” according to a Chemours release. “EPA’s own peer reviewer called aspects of EPA’s toxicity assessment (which serves as the basis for the health advisory) ‘extreme’ and ‘excessive.’ The agency disregarded relevant data and incorporated grossly incorrect and overstated exposure assumptions in devising the health advisory. The EPA’s failure to use the best-available-science and follow its own standards are contrary to this administration’s commitment to scientific integrity, and we believe unlawful.” The suit filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia specifically names EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who is also former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Chemours warned it might take legal action against the EPA after the agency’s assistant administrator for water, Radhika Fox, announced the final health advisory June 15. Fox made the announcement at the third National PFAS Conference held in downtown Wilmington, a city and surrounding region thrust into the national spotlight five years ago when the news broke that Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Facility had for decades been discharging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances into the Cape Fear River, air and ground. The EPA’s final health advisory for GenX is 10 parts per trillion, or ppt and, for perfluoro butane sulfonic acid, or PFBS, at 2,000 ppt. PFBS has not been found in significant concentrations in samples in North Carolina, according to DEQ. The agency also issued updated interim health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluoro octane sulfonic acid, or PFOS. GenX was created to replace PFOA, which was voluntarily phased out of production more than 10 years ago in the U.S. Chemours states in its news release that HFPO-DA is not a commercial product and does not pose human health or environmental risks “when used for its intended purpose.” Health studies of animals that ingested GenX show health effects in the kidneys, blood, immune system, liver and developing fetuses, according to the EPA’s toxicity assessment. Chemours argues that the GenX toxicity assessment issued October 2021 was “materially different” from a draft assessment published in November 2018 and that the EPA did not provide public notice or allow for public comment on the new assessment. “Upon review of the October 2021 Toxicity Assessment, Chemours and external experts identified numerous material scientific flaws, including its failure to incorporate available, highly relevant peer-reviewed studies and that it significantly overstates the potential for risk associated with HFPO-DA,” according to the release. The EPA did not respond to an email request for comment Wednesday. EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Benita Best-Wong defended the GenX toxicity assessment in a letter to a law firm representing six North Carolina health and environmental groups, stating the assessment “was subject to two rigorous independent peer reviews by scientists who were screened for conflicts of interest in 2018 and 2021.” Best-Wong went on to write that the agency asked the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program to conduct an independent review of the liver histopathology slides from two studies. The agency published detailed responses to comments from both peer reviews and the assessment was put out for public review and comment for 60 days, she wrote. That letter was in response to the groups’ call for the EPA to order Chemours to conduct health studies on 54 PFAS. Those groups, including Cape Fear River Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, the NC Black Alliance and Toxic Free NC, filed a lawsuit against the EPA for failing to require Chemours to conduct the studies. The EPA’s health advisory for GenX replaces the state’s 2018 provisional drinking water health goal of 140 ppt. A consent order between DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch and Chemours requires the company to provide whole house filtration for households that rely on private water wells where GenX concentrations are above the health advisory. “We expect Chemours to meet their obligations under the Consent Order and to the communities impacted by the PFAS contamination,” Sharon Martin, DEQ deputy secretary for public affairs, said in an email Wednesday. Cape Fear River Watch Executive Director Dana Sargent said in a telephone interview she was “shaken” by the lawsuit. “This is going to be seriously infuriating for the community to hear this news and to still be looking at commercials and this nonsense saying (Chemours) are good neighbors,” she said. “I think Chemours needs to recognize that they can’t continue to claim that they’re good neighbors while suing the nation’s regulatory agency based on their assessment of the GenX toxicity level, which was done under strict calculations based on available science on the health impacts of GenX. The science is science.”
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Previously reported – July 2022
Scientists find way to destroy PFAS chemicals
Some of the most stubborn manmade chemicals, which many health experts believe are harmful to humans, may have finally met their match, according to new research. WITN has been looking into the study that has found a way to destroy some categories of PFAS. Northwestern University researchers found out how to break the chemicals down with two relatively harmless chemicals. From drinking water to other common household items, PFAS chemicals—or forever chemicals, as they are infamously known, are found in a lot of places, and they tend to stay in the places they go. “They’re all manmade chemicals so these are not found naturally,” UNC Chapel Hill professor and chemist Frank Leibfarth said. “It’s a problem that will only get worse because they don’t degrade. They increase the risk of certain types of cancer.” That “forever” title, however, may have just met its match. A study published by researchers at Northwestern University has found a way to destroy these stubborn chemicals when it comes to GenX PFAS chemicals. Leibfarth says the research is a great advancement. “What this study did is said, ‘alright, we applied these conditions, and this is what we got out,’ but then they did the really hard work of understanding every step in that process,” Leibfarth said. Two harmless chemicals, sodium hydroxide, a chemical used to make soap, and dimethyl sulfoxide, a chemical approved as a medication, are the keys to the safe destruction of these PFAS. Exposing these particles to very high heat used to be the only operational way of destroying them in the past. The new method appears to be more energy efficient and safer. If Gen-X sounds familiar, it’s because you may remember the controversy surrounding the company Chemours and how it was accused of releasing the chemical into the Cape Fear River, a water source for hundreds of thousands in New Hanover County. “North Carolina, especially the Wilmington area, has really led a lot of national and international awareness of this issue,” Leibfarth said. The study found that the method was not effective on the PFOS, so research continues on how to best handle that classification of PFAS chemicals. There are many types of household water filters today that can help in blocking PFAS from making it into your cup.
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Previously reported – September 2022
DEQ approves permit to reduce PFAS contamination in the Cape Fear River
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has issued the discharge permit for a treatment system to remove PFAS compounds from contaminated groundwater on the Chemours Fayetteville Works site. The treatment system is part of the larger barrier wall remediation project to substantially reduce PFAS entering the Cape Fear River and impacting downstream communities. After a comprehensive review and public process, DEQ’s Division of Water Resources has issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for a granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration treatment system. After consideration of the public comments and further review of data and information contained in the permit record, the permit limits for the three indicator compounds have been significantly reduced beyond the 99% removal required in the Consent Order. During an initial period to optimize the performance of the system, the permit limits will be: 120 ng/L (ppt) for GenX, 100 ng/L (ppt) for PMPA and 320 ng/L (ppt) for PFMOAA. After the 180-day optimization period, the limits will drop to less than 10 ppt for GenX, 10 ppt for PMPA, and less than 20 ppt for PFMOAA. These limits represent an estimated removal efficiency of greater than 99.9%. The NPDES permit includes weekly monitoring upstream and downstream of the treatment system during barrier wall construction to track progress and efficiency. It also allows for an evaluation after one year to incorporate new data and further tighten limits if appropriate. The permit can also be reopened to add limitations based on new toxicity data, introduction of Federal or state PFAS standards, and if another PFAS compound breaks through the treatment system more quickly than the three current indicator parameters. The massive remediation project is the largest of its kind to address PFAS. The system involves a mile-long underground barrier wall, more than 70 extraction wells and the GAC treatment system to intercept and treat groundwater contaminated by years of pollution at the facility. The groundwater will be pumped and treated to ultimately remove an estimated 99.9% of PFAS compounds before being released into the river. Currently the contaminated groundwater flows untreated directly into the Cape Fear River. This project is designed to reduce the largest ongoing source of PFAS contaminating the river and reaching downstream water intakes and must be operational by March 15, 2023. In addition, DEQ issued an approval letter for the design of the barrier wall. The approval includes conditions for additional monitoring wells, sampling of extraction wells, and management of contaminated groundwater during barrier wall construction. DEQ is also finalizing the 401 Water Quality Certification to minimize and address impacts during the construction of the barrier wall in conjunction with the 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The NPDES permit, hearing officer’s report and approval letter are available on the NCDEQ website at bit.ly/ 3Sdasmd.
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Previously reported – October 2022
NC residents face risk of health issues from GenX, PFAS exposure, new research shows
Residents throughout the Cape Fear region have known for five years that they were exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals leaked into their drinking water by two chemical companies. Now, new research indicates many residents face an increased risk of developing health issues associated with that exposure. Researchers from North Carolina State University’s GenX Exposure Study released their latest round of blood sampling on Tuesday. What they found largely supported their previous findings including the fact that nearly all of their more than 1,000 participants had some combination of PFAS in their blood, according to Nadine Kotlarz, a postdoctoral fellow for the GenX Exposure Study. PFAS concentrations in participants’ blood were so high, they not only exceeded the national average, but also indicated that most participants have a greater chance of developing adverse conditions associated with PFAS exposure, according to new healthcare recommendations developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. A growing body of evidence shows an association between PFAS exposure and, “decreased antibody response to vaccines, dyslipidemia or alterations in cholesterol levels, decreased infant growth and fetal growth, and an increased risk of kidney cancer in adults,” said Jane Hoppin, principal investigator for the GenX Exposure Study. Human studies found associations between PFOA and PFOS (two compounds found in participants’ blood) and effects on the immune system, cardiovascular system and the development of cancer, according to the EPA. In the Cape Fear region, researchers at the GenX Exposure Study found 29% of participants fell into the highest risk category of the NASEM recommendations, meaning they face a “higher risk of adverse effects.” Individuals in this category should consider screening for thyroid issues, ulcerative colitis, and various forms of cancer including kidney cancer and testicular cancer, according to the NASEM recommendations. Another 68% of participants fell into the moderate category, meaning sensitive populations could potentially develop adverse health conditions. Individuals in this group should consider getting screened as well. Researchers at NC State first collected blood samples from Wilmington residents back in 2017. Since then, the group’s research has expanded to include residents closer to Chemours’ chemical plant in Fayetteville and even those living up toward Pittsboro. The central focus of Tuesday’s virtual meeting was to learn more about the health effects associated with the contamination of the Cape Fear River and water sources surrounding the waterway. For nearly four decades, Chemours, and before them DuPont, contaminated North Carolina’s largest river system with per- and polyfluorinated substances (also known as PFAS). The Cape Fear provides drinking water to nearly 500,000 North Carolinians. The contamination was uncovered back in 2017 by the StarNews and since then public anger has grown, largely at Chemours and DuPont for tainting peoples’ water with dangerous chemicals. “We found two PFAS that are known to originate at the Fayetteville Works… in most people in New Hanover and Brunswick counties and in some people in the Fayetteville area,” Kotlarz said. “We did not detect Gen X in the blood samples collected in 2020 and 2021.” The study’s more than 1,000 participants included approximately 514 residents from New Hanover County and Brunswick County and 300 residents from Fayetteville, Kotlarz said. The team also collected blood samples from residents in Pittsboro. Kotlarz added PFAS concentrations in participants were decreasing over time, and that GenX doesn’t seem to last for long periods in human blood. The GenX Exposure Study will continue to host public meetings throughout the rest of this year to educate residents about their findings and answer questions from participants. After that the goal of the study is to transition from understanding the contamination to following participants over time to learn more about the health outcomes associated with PFAS exposure, Hoppin said. “As we move forward in time, we’ll be able to see what PFAS concentrations were in people’s body today and how that influences their health in the future,” Hoppin said.
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Previously reported – April 2023
CFPUA files suit to make sure DuPont is held responsible for PFAS, GenX contamination
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is taking the fight to DuPont in a lawsuit attempting to make sure all parties are held responsible for the contamination of the Cape Fear region with compounds known as “forever chemicals.” Chemours, and before them DuPont, contaminated the Cape Fear River and the surrounding region with toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, for more than 30 years. The contamination began, according to CFPUA and others, in about 1980 when DuPont operated the Fayetteville Works chemical plant outside of Fayetteville. Up until 2015, DuPont dumped PFAS into the environment surrounding the chemical plant, tainting the drinking water source to roughly 1-in-15 North Carolinians as a result. CFPUA has already filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to hold DuPont and Chemours accountable for their actions, but this new lawsuit is trying make sure DuPont doesn’t escape responsibility. In the lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, CFPUA alleges DuPont used various business transactions and restructuring from 2015 to 2019 to avoid financial responsibility for the contamination of the Cape Fear River, according to a press release from CFPUA. CFPUA’s claims largely match allegations the state of North Carolina and others have levied against DuPont in lawsuits they’ve filed against the chemical giant. The groups allege DuPont knew PFAS were dangerous and that the company’s liability for dumping these compounds into the environment stretched into the billions of dollars, according to CFPUA and others’ lawsuits. CFPUA and others claim DuPont used various business transactions, including spinning off its performance chemical business into a new company called Chemours, to avoid responsibility. By spinning off Chemours and transferring its wealth to other spinoff entities and subsidiaries, DuPont’s alleged plan was to prevent CFPUA, the state of North Carolina and others from ever holding DuPont accountable, according to CFPUA and others. “Clearly the damages scared the executives such that it drove them to engage in this incredibly complex corporate shell game,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein in an interview with the StarNews back in January. CFPUA alleges in its lawsuit that these transactions and restructuring allowed DuPont to “strip away” more than $20 billion in its assets over the course of a five-year period, according to CFPUA’s lawsuit. “As a result, DuPont was left with substantially fewer tangible assets than it had prior to the restructuring.” “Upon information and belief, the purpose of Project Beta was to avoid responsibility for the widespread environmental harm that DuPont’s PFAS contamination had caused and shield billions of dollars in assets from these substantial liabilities,” according to CFPUA’s lawsuit. CFPUA’s Delaware lawsuit seeks to make sure DuPont pays for the damages the public utility incurred, which it estimated to be roughly $238 million, despite the various business transactions, according to CFPUA’s lawsuit. CFPUA named Chemours, E.I. DuPont, DuPont De Nemours (commonly referred to as “New DuPont” in CFPUA and others’ lawsuits) and Corteva (another spinoff of DuPont) in its lawsuit. CFPUA’s new lawsuit was filed in Delaware because both Chemours and DuPont are headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, according to CFPUA officials. “Plaintiff brings this action to ensure the voidable transfers concocted by Defendants do not preclude Plaintiffs from recovering the amounts to which it is entitled from (CFPUA’s federal lawsuit),” according to CFPUA’s lawsuit.
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Previously reported – October 2023
Lawsuit against Chemours, DuPont moves forward following class action certification
A lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont is moving forward after a federal judge granted class action certification to over 100,000 North Carolina residents. According to Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the residents “allege that The Chemours Company (Chemours) and DuPont Chemical (DuPont) illegally discharged toxic wastewater containing PFAS and GenX chemicals, aka ‘forever chemicals,’ from its Fayetteville Works plant into the Cape Fear River, failed to inform residents, failed to inform government officials after learning of its damaging impacts, and continued these harmful practices for decades. The plaintiffs claim that they unknowingly consumed drinking water contaminated with these chemicals, that they now suffer from and face the risk of serious health problems, and that Chemours and DuPont should pay the cost of eliminating the contamination of these PFAS chemicals from their homes.” The class certification was granted by United States District Judge James Dever III on Wednesday, Oct. 4. “The class action was first brought in 2017 in the Eastern District of North Carolina,” the announcement states. “In 2018, Cohen Milstein and Susman Godfrey were court appointed Interim Co-Lead Class Counsel. “Since filing the case, Cohen Milstein and Susman Godfrey have provided information to DEQ in support of the development and enforcement of the consent order while seeking additional relief through the class action.” This lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont joins other cases focusing on the contamination of the Cape Fear River. Earlier this year, Chemours, DuPont and Corteva agreed to a more than a billion-dollar settlement amid complaints they polluted drinking water across the country. Additionally, in March, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority filed a lawsuit to prevent Chemours, DuPont and related companies from restructuring to avoid liability for damage caused by PFAS at the Fayetteville Works plant. The full order can be accessed here. More information about Cohen Milstein, including the class action case, can be found here.
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Previously reported – November 2023
‘Hold Chemours accountable’:
Brunswick sends letter on GenX import concerns to EPA
The Environmental Protection Agency recently authorized Chemours to import millions of pounds of GenX from a Dutch company under criminal investigation. Commissioners of Brunswick County — found by one national study to have the worst PFAS contamination among 44 municipalities — voiced their concerns about the decision Wednesday in a letter to administrator Michael Regan. Brunswick County residents, like all North Carolina and U.S. residents, deserve access to clean drinking water,” Chair Randy Thompson wrote in the letter. “All residents who source their water from the Cape Fear River and a growing number of residents who source their water from drinking water wells are affected by Chemours’ pollution and have yet to see the company fulfill NCDEQ’s 2019 Consent Order.” On Sept. 8, the EPA sent a letter to Chemours permitting the import of more than 4 million pounds of GenX from the company’s Dordrecht, Netherlands facility to the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant in Bladen County, North Carolina through Sept. 6 2024. The approval follows a class action lawsuit filed last month by Dutch criminal attorney Bénédicte Ficq against DuPont and its spinoff Chemours; the suit alleges the companies’ executives knowingly caused decades of PFAS pollution. The Fayetteville plant will use the imported GenX for “recycle and reuse.” Thompson, writing on behalf of the board of commissioners, noted Chemours’ previous improper GenX waste disposal is still present in the Cape Fear River. The Fayetteville Works’ barrier wall, to capture contamination, was completed in June — months after the consent order mandated. Thompson said weekly PFAS tests performed at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant show the prevalence of PFAS compounds in the county is still high. He argued insufficient time has passed to ensure the wall is effectively preventing PFAS from entering the river. The commissioners urged the EPA to guarantee Chemours “has significantly reduced the amount of PFAS entering the Cape Fear River before allowing more PFAS into the state.” The chair included a list of county recommendations in the letter, such as including the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality in future PFAS authorizations and to “hold Chemours accountable to future changes to health advisory levels or maximum contaminant levels.” NCDEQ was not made aware of EPA’s decision to import GenX, nor did it have any say in the matter. The letter argued Chemours’ actions have already unfairly burdened the county’s taxpayers and water customers; construction on the Northwest Water Treatment Plant’s low-pressure reverse osmosis facility — plagued by years of delays — has already cost $24,229,190. Thompson said the county has issued a total of $167.3 million in revenue bonds for the facility. He also noted GenX and other PFAS compounds have been found in private wells used by county residents. A study by the National Resources Defense Council found significant amounts of 12 PFAS compounds excluded from EPA testing methods in the county. The letter can be read here.
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Remember GenX and PFAS contaminants? Why they’re back in the news and what it means for NC
Researchers have found more types of PFAS “forever chemicals” in the Cape Fear River. The news comes as Chemours looks to import GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to Fayetteville.
Six years ago the StarNews broke the story that water in the Cape Fear River downstream of Chemours’ Fayetteville Works Plant contained high levels of previously unknown chemicals used in common everyday products like food packaging, cookware, medical devices and adhesives. The manmade per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including GenX, are frequently dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down quickly in the environment, can linger in the body, and have been tied to a host of health problems and ailments. Fast-forward to 2023 and the questions surrounding PFAS and their ongoing environmental, financial and health problems have often taken a backseat in the public realm behind pandemics, toxic politics, global conflicts and worries about a slowing economy. That has occurred even as the national scope of the contamination has grown as more and more areas around the country, including military bases where PFAS have been used in firefighting foam for decades, are found to be polluted with the chemicals. But two reports in recent weeks have brought the issue back to the forefront in the Tar Heel State. In mid-October the news website NC Newsline reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved plans by Chemours to restart the import of GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to Fayetteville Works, a process that the federal regulators had frozen in 2018 over concerns of “outdated data” and “inappropriate use of a combined waste stream.” A Chemours spokesperson told the Fayetteville Observer that the 4-million-pound figure was the maximum amount the company would be allowed to import over the next year, but that they will likely import far less. The chemical would be recycled and reused, reducing the amount of new GenX that would have to be produced, the spokesperson added. The announcement that Chemours could be importing more GenX into North Carolina even as the long-term fallout from decades of dumping “forever chemicals” into the Cape Fear by Chemours and DuPont, which spun off Chemours in 2015, that then made their way into local water supplies remains to be determined drew angry responses from environmentalists and community activists. On Tuesday Gov. Roy Cooper joined in, stating that the EPA’s decision should be “reconsidered and reversed.” “It is unacceptable for North Carolinians to bear the risks associated with importing millions of pounds of GenX from other countries for disposal in our air, land and water,” the governor said in a letter to the EPA. “Under the Biden Administration, the EPA has been a vital partner in our efforts to learn more about these chemicals and protect the health of our communities and we will continue to encourage them to take action.” Then two weeks ago North Carolina researchers published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science stating that they had discovered 11 new PFAS compounds in the Cape Fear River below the Chemours plant. The discovery was made by using a novel testing method and adds to the more than 14,000 known PFAS created by industry. “However, the exact number of unique PFAS is difficult to estimate as additional compounds are continually developed and identified,” the study states. “Furthermore, a very small percentage of these chemicals have any publicly available information on their toxicological impacts or presence in the environment.” While regulators can begin monitoring for the 11 new PFAS, more studies will be required to determine their toxicity and how long they stay in the environment. And as state and local officials have seen with GenX, in can take years for safe standards to be adopted − all the while local utilities, health officials and residents struggle with what’s already in their water and the environment. Last month a federal judge allowed more than 100,000 North Carolina residents and property owners to move forward with a class-action suit against DuPont and Chemours. The plaintiffs sued in 2017 after it became public that the companies had been discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River, groundwater around Fayetteville Works, and air since 1980. They claim the manmade contaminants had led to them developing various diseases and are seeking punitive and compensatory damages for, among other things, the cost of replacing tainted pipes, plumbing fixtures, and installing water-purification systems. While still fighting some of the contamination allegations, DuPont and Chemours have been working to settle other legal disputes. In June, the two companies along with Corteva, an Indianapolis-based company that provides seeds and crop-protection solutions, reached a $1.19 billion settlement with a slew of public water systems over PFAS contamination. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) was not one of the systems that settled with the companies. The authority, which provides water and sewer service to most New Hanover County residents, has sued Chemours and DuPont to recover costs and damages associated with their PFAS contamination and its impact on the authority’s operations. That includes $43 million CFPUA spent to install eight granular-activated carbon (GAC) filters to remove PFAS contamination at CFPUA’s Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. The facility draws water from the Cape Fear and provides drinking water to about 80% of CFPUA’s customers. North Carolina legislators also are continuing to earmark state funds to deal with the PFAS crisis, including $55 million in the recently passed state budget. That amount includes $35 million to CFPUA, part of which will be used to extend water lines to private well owners.
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