EPA urged to reconsider Trump-era Chemours decision on chemical testing
A bipartisan group of North Carolina representatives in Congress are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to require Chemours to pay for testing to determine how chemicals that might be connected to the company's plant in Bladen County impact residents and the environment nearby.
Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents the state's 8th District, and Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat representing the 2nd District, were among seven U.S. representatives to sign a letter to the federal agency. The letter asks the EPA to reconsider a decision made by the Trump administration last year that denied a petition from environmental groups.
The petition, which was filed under the Toxic Substances Control Act, requested that the agency require Chemours to test for 54 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The document cited human health and environmental concerns. Six groups sent the petition, including the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, and Advance Carolina.
Lisa Randall, a Chemours spokeswoman, said several compounds listed in the original petition have no known connection to the company’s operations in Bladen County.
“Others are byproducts and intermediaries that occur at such small quantities, levels that continue to decrease, that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture the volumes required for testing,” she said in an email. “The numerous actions we have taken to reduce fluorinated organic compound emissions and address remediation needs continue to make a significant difference in reducing loadings to the Cape Fear River.”
Chemours makes GenX, a PFAS compound, at its plant on the Cape Fear River off N.C. 87 near the Cumberland County line. The chemical also is a byproduct of other processes at the facility.
GenX has been linked to cancer and other health issues in animal tests, but it isn't known if the effect is the same in humans. Chemours officials have said the amount of the compound in wells around the plant is not harmful.
PFAS chemicals are in a number of household items. Some have contaminated the air, water, and soil around the Chemours plant. Researchers also have found PFAS chemicals in the Cape Fear River watershed, which is the main source of drinking water for 300,000 people in southeastern North Carolina.
Most recently, the chemicals have been detected in wells at least 16 miles from the Bladen plant near Sampson County, according to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. The substances also have been found in fish and vegetables, though more testing is being done to determine the level of harm.
Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, a nonprofit environmental organization, said in a statement released by Ross' office that she appreciates the actions taken by the Ross and Hudson to address the PFAS contamination crisis in North Carolina.
"We have PFAS in our blood and tap water, and no one can tell me what these exposures mean for our health," Donovan, of Brunswick County, said. "Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and school children in my community are still drinking some of the nation's highest levels of PFAS in tap water. We deserve answers."
On Jan. 7, Andrew Wheeler, the former administrator of the EPA for the Trump administration denied the petition.
Other signers of the letter to new EPA Administrator Michael Regan were Democrats Kathy Manning (NC-06), G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), David Price (NC-04), and Alma Adams (NC-12), and Republican Madison Cawthorn (NC-11). Regan served as the head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality before taking the EPA post.
"We believe that Cape Fear River communities and North Carolinians must be informed of the health consequences of long-term PFAS exposure and that Chemours has a responsibility under TSCA to fund the research necessary to address their concerns," the letter reads.
The Chemours spokeswoman, Randall, said Chemours supports “science-based regulations.” The company has worked with the EPA and other regulators to develop and expand scientific knowledge about PFAS, she said.
Chemours is going beyond the requirements of a Consent Order the company signed with the state and an environmental group, Randall said.
“Chemours made an industry-leading commitment to reduce all fluorinated PFAS emissions by 99% by 2030,” she said.