NC companies will test PFAS products for toxicity in accordance with EPA ordinance

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Manufacturers of chemicals that produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, must begin testing their products for toxicity, according to a new decision recently announced by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s move is a partial victory for six North Carolina community and environmental justice groups that have called on the government to require Chemours, a chemicals maker outside of Fayetteville, to start testing its substances in an ongoing environmental disaster in southeastern North Carolina.

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 Carolina residents have been exposed to toxic levels of PFAS chemicals, but understanding the health consequences of this exposure has been a challenge because little is known about PFAS chemicals.

Following:The GenX water crisis started 4 years ago. Here’s a recap of the key moments so far

By accessing the petition, the EPA will use its federal authority to require chemical companies to begin testing the risks PFAS chemicals can present to humans. These companies may be required to fund this research and disclose the results to the government.

“Today’s actions advance the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to improving understanding and protecting people from the potential risks of PFAS,” according to the EPA press release.

The EPA’s decision “deeply disappointed” the six North Carolina groups that filed the petition, according to a press release from the groups. The groups felt the EPA’s response was “inadequate” and did not go far enough to hold Chemours and other companies accountable.

Environmental groups do not accept the government’s decision and said they are considering their options, including litigation, to force it to do more, according to the press 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, the EPA has had over a year to review the many letters and submissions from petitioners explaining the concerns of North Carolina communities, but completely missed the petition’s purpose to meet public health needs. of a seriously contaminated community, “according to the joint press release.

The backstory

Contamination of the Cape Fear River in southeastern North Carolina comes from the Fayetteville Works plant outside of Fayetteville. The sprawling chemical plant is now owned by Chemours, a DuPont spin-off company.

For decades, the two companies have allowed PFAS chemicals to seep into the soil, air and river around the plant, exposing more than a quarter of a million North Carolinians to chemicals that , according to early studies, can increase the risk of developing various diseases, including cancer.

The water disaster unfolded over nearly 40 years, and for much of that time, Chemours and DuPont would have known what was going on, but decided to cover up the contamination, according to a lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont by the State of North Carolina.

Chemours was forced to contain the leak and pay the state $ 12 million for his actions.

The Chemours Fayetteville Works plant is located off NC 87, just south of Fayetteville, NC, on Wednesday May 30, 2018.

In the aftermath of the disaster, researchers began working with affected residents to understand the risks PFASs could pose 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 that GenX, one of the PFAS chemicals that leaked into Cape Fear, was more toxic than it had previously estimated. He said based on animal studies that oral exposure to GenX has shown negative effects on the health of the liver, kidneys, immune system, offspring development and may cause cancer.

In Wilmington, researchers estimate that residents have ingested about 700 parts per trillion of PFAS every day for more than 30 years. This exposure is approximately five times the exposure target set by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

A reversal of decisions

In October, the EPA announced a national strategy for testing PFAS, 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, EPA plans to test 24 PFAS substances and extrapolate that data to 2,950 other PFAS chemicals in the same categories as the original 24 substances.

The six groups in North Carolina initially 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 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 meet the definition of PFAS used in developing the testing strategy. “

The EPA’s decision this week is a complete reversal of what the agency decided almost a year ago. In the dying days of the Trump administration, the EPA initially rejected the petition.

The six groups in North Carolina asked the agency to reconsider its decision in March this year, hoping the change of administration would lead to a better outcome. The Biden administration agreed to reconsider the petition in September and adjudicated it this week.

“Biden’s EPA does not protect North Carolina”

Current EPA administrator Michael Regan has been implicated in the water contamination of the Cape Fear River for several years. Regan was secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality before becoming a trustee of the EPA, and during his tenure he was able to enter the State and Cape Fear River Watch in a consent order with Chemours to control contamination.

In announcing the EPA’s decision, Regan acknowledged that communities in North Carolina “deserve to know about the potential risks that exposure to PFAS poses to families and children,” Regan said.

“By taking action on this petition, the EPA will have a better understanding of the risks of PFAS pollution so that we can do more to protect people,” Regan said.

But a day after the EPA’s decision, all six environmental groups released their response to the agency’s actions, and part of their reaction was aimed directly at Regan.

In this May 12, 2021 file photo, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan speaks during a White House press briefing in Washington.  (AP Photo / Evan Vucci, file)

In announcing the EPA’s PFAS roadmap to Raleigh on October 18, Administrator Michael Regan acknowledged the ‘decades of unchecked devastation’ Cape Fear communities have suffered and highlighted the unexplained and serious health problems faced by residents, “according to the press release.

“Unfortunately, the response to the EPA’s petition does not honor these commitments,” the press release added.

North Carolinians are incurring medical debts battling rare and recurring forms of cancer due to PFAS contamination, said Emily Donovan of Clean Cape Fear. These residents deserve to have access to all possible health studies to understand the risks they face.

This is what the petition was asking for and the EPA has the legal power to compel Chemours to pay for these studies, Donovan said.

“As the director of an environmental nonprofit that believed and trusted the people at this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who also mourns the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, my heart is broken, ”said Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch.

Michael Green, CEO of CEH added: “We do not intend to accept this EPA decision, and we intend to hold Chemours accountable. The EPA is responsible for protecting our health and the environment, and this decision is inconsistent with that. “

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