Environmental Groups Call on EPA to Require Chemical Manufacturer to Study PFAS Contamination Effects

Environmental groups are challenging the EPA for denying their petition to require chemical manufacturer The Chemours Co. to fund studies of the toxic chemicals detected along the North Carolina coast and the contamination’s impact on humans, animals, and the environment.

The chemicals, PFAS, are man made chemical compounds that have been used for decades to make nonstick coatings such as Teflon and are used in everything from pizza boxes and takeout food containers to rugs, dental floss, and outdoor clothing. PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the human body or nature and have been associated with numerous health problems.

The plaintiffs, which include the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, and Cape Fear River Watch, filed suit in the Northern District of California under section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to challenge the Trump administration’s EPA denial of their petition last year.

The groups say that EPA has broad power under TSCA to order manufacturers like Chemours to conduct testing to determine the safety of their products and processes. Congress amended TSCA in 2016 to strengthen EPA’s authority to order chemical manufacturers to pay for testing of toxic chemicals.

“In the final days of the administration, the Trump EPA denied this petition after failing to act meaningfully on PFAS for years,” said Drake Phelps, Clean Cape Fear member. “By reversing the denial of this petition, the Biden EPA can correct this misstep and set the agency on a path to tackling the PFAS crisis in this country. The testing laid out in this petition would give EPA the data they need to protect human health and the environment from PFAS that have been found in the Cape Fear River, drinking water, produce, and human blood. They have had the power to request this testing for years, and it’s time they stepped up to use it.”

The environmental groups say they are concerned about contamination from 54 types of PFAS that Chemours manufactures that have been found in the drinking water, groundwater, soil, air, locally produced food and human blood of residents of the Cape Fear region. Chemours owns Fayetteville Works’ 2,150-acre site near the Cape Fear River. The groups say that the facility discharges chemicals into the river, which provides drinking water for 300,000 people, including in downstream Wilmington.

“This process is backward, and we all know it,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear. Chemours “should have done these tests before they put them in our air, soil, water, food supply, and blood. North Carolinians shouldn’t have to beg the EPA to order a multi-billion-dollar chemical company to do its job. Frankly, it’s embarrassing this is happening in America.”

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to birth defects, developmental issues, infertility, and cancer as well as liver damage, immune system disruption, resistance to vaccines, thyroid disease, impaired fertility, and high cholesterol.

Nearly every U.S. resident has PFAS in his or her body, with studies finding PFAS in blood, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, placenta, and other tissues. People can be exposed to PFAS through contaminated drinking water, food, and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with the chemicals.

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