Monday, April 15, 2024

Clean Cape Fear co-founder petitioning Congress to regulate, study, and educate about PFAS

There are thousands of chemicals in the PFAS family that are found in the Cape Fear River -- almost none have been studied or regulated in any way. (Port City Daily photo / File)
There are thousands of chemicals in the PFAS family that are found in the Cape Fear River — almost none have been studied or regulated in any way. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, testified before Congress on the PFAS contamination crisis in the Cape Fear River this. Donovan testified that DuPont/Chemours, which has a plant in Fayetteville approximately 80 miles upriver from Wilmington, has knowingly been depositing these chemicals directly into the Cape Fear River and a wide radius around their manufacturing facility via air emissions.

Find Clean Cape Fear’s petition to Congress here.

Two years ago, it was discovered that the Cape Fear River, the primary source of drinking water for more than 250,000 residents, was contaminated with PFOA, PFOS, and Gen X, along with 40 or more other PFAS. This contamination lasted for over thirty years. According to Donovan, these chemicals are in our blood at “alarming levels.” Contamination remains in tap water and has tainted hundreds of private wells, the soil, air, and crops near Fayetteville.

While toxicological studies are in their early phases on just a few PFAS variants, it’s been suggested that exposure to PFAS can lead to cancer, obesity, diabetes, asthma, liver damage, high cholesterol, cardiovascular effects, thyroid disease, immune deficiencies, reduced fertility, low birth weights, pregnancy complications, reduced sperm count, reduction in penis size, and lower breastmilk production. In addition to the pollution, air emissions from the plant have contaminated hundreds of local private wells near the plant, forcing residents to live on bottled water. 

The result of all these pollutants has had a major impact on the Cape Fear Community. Based on recent studies, Wilmington residents appear to have twice as much PFOS in their blood compared to the national average, as well as three times more PFOA, and four other newly identified PFAS linked to Chemours. 

According to court records, public documents, and extensive reporting on this issue, DuPont/Chemours knew about the potential adverse health effects associated with these dangerous compounds for decades, yet they continued to allow their discharge into the environment during their production.

The DuPont/Chemours Fayetteville plant has been required by court order to discontinue direct discharge into surface waters and is constructing an industrial thermal oxidizer to trap air emissions. But despite these efforts, dozens of PFAS compounds are still detected in the Cape Fear River and finished tap water.

Numerous adverse health effects and diseases, including two types of cancer, have been associated with PFOA and PFOS, which has led to a phaseout of these chemicals. However, industrial producers like DuPont/Chemours simply replaced these two compounds with similar molecules without testing them for human safety.

In response to these discoveries, Donovan and the rest of Clean Cape Fear are petitioning to Congress in hopes that more action will be taken to solve this issue; the petition asks for a host of actions, including:

  • Immediately regulate PFAS as a class of highly toxic chemicals–regardless of their chain length.
  • Designate PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA so PFAS manufacturers pay for cleanup.
  • Regulate the disposal of PFAS chemicals and every product using PFAS to reduce exposure pathways.
  • Require consumer product labeling of products using PFAS so every consumer can make informed choices on how to reduce their continued exposure to these toxic chemicals.
  • Require PFAS manufacturers provide test standards and methods for all PFAS–including byproducts. Doing this will allow states, like North Carolina, to respond quickly to emerging PFAS threats.
  • Require EPA rodent toxicology studies on all known PFAS–especially the compounds already detected in human blood. Without rodent studies, the EPA cannot set regulatory standards for health-protective drinking water levels.
  • Begin epidemiological studies using heat mapping of all known cancers in highly contaminated PFAS communities to identify cancer clusters. Cancer is the only human disease already well documented at the national and state levels.
  • Update the EPA 537 method to include new PFAS as standards become available.
  • Require comprehensive PFAS testing of all public utilities to identify the scope and extent of PFAS contamination.
  • Set the Method Detection Limit (MDL) for PFAS to 1 ppt. The public has a right to know how many drops of PFAS are in our drinking water due to their persistence and bio-accumulative effects.
  • Set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for all PFAS to 1 ppt based on ATSDR research.
  • Deny federal contracts to chronic PFAS polluters–like DuPont/Chemours. These companies should not be rewarded for their poor stewardship.
  • Educate the public and medical professionals about the potential medical risks and complications of exposure to PFAS.
  • Require American manufacturers adopt the precautionary principle, where the burden of proof is on the emitter to prove a compound is safe before discharging it into the environment.

Those interested in supporting this cause can sign the petition and learn more here.


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