Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit Tuesday against companies for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, pollution to North Carolina’s drinking water supplies, fisheries and other natural resources.
The lawsuit, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court against DuPont, Chemours and related companies for damages caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of PFAS chemicals, also asks the court to void certain corporate transactions among the companies, which Stein’s office said is “a complex scheme designed to shield billions of dollars in assets from the State and others who the companies knew were damaged by their conduct.”
According to the complaint Stein filed Tuesday, DuPont and Chemours have for decades contaminated the land, air, water, and other valuable natural resources around their Fayetteville Works Facility, in the Cape Fear River, and in downstream communities with PFAS. All the while, DuPont knew that these chemicals pose significant threats to human health and the environment.
Stein announced in August a formal investigation into those responsible for PFAS contamination in North Carolina. This is the first case the Attorney General is bringing as a result of that ongoing investigation, which may result in additional legal action.
“DuPont and Chemours have dumped PFAS into North Carolina’s drinking water even as they knew these forever chemicals pose threats to human health and our natural resources,” said Stein. “These companies maximized their profits at the expense of the people of North Carolina. That’s wrong. I am taking DuPont and Chemours to court to make them pay for the mess they made.”
PFAS, or forever chemicals, resist biodegradation, are mobile, persist in the environment, and accumulate in living organisms – including people. These chemicals are harmful to human health. They can cause kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, cholesterol, hypertension, and damage to the immune system.
In 2017, state Department of Justice lawyers took Chemours to court on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to stop Chemours from discharging PFAS, including GenX, into the Cape Fear River and emitting those substances into the air. As a result of DEQ’s litigation the Consent Order was issued by the court in 2019, which was amended Monday.
The consent order requires Chemours to install air emissions control technology to reduce PFAS emissions by 99.9%; prevent discharge of PFAS to the Cape Fear River; provide clean drinking water to affected private well users near the Fayetteville Works site; assess the extent of existing contamination; and develop a plan to clean up historical contamination of soil and groundwater on an expedited basis.
The amendment Monday requires Chemours to take significant additional actions to reduce PFAS entering the Cape Fear River through residual groundwater contamination. The Southern Environmental Law Center negotiated the agreement on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, NCDEQ and Chemours.
DEQ described its Consent Order as first steps in a broad strategy to address PFAS in the Cape Fear River Basin, and DEQ retained its authority to investigate other contributors to PFAS contamination, including contributors upstream of the facility and to take additional legal action if necessary based on new information. Stein’s lawsuit filed Tuesday complements DEQ’s regulatory actions.
A Chemours spokesperson provided the following statement regarding the lawsuit:
“We are currently reviewing the filing in detail. Chemours has operated as an independent company since July 1, 2015. Since that time, Chemours has taken definitive action to address active emissions and historic deposition at our Fayetteville site, and continues to do so. Chemours has cooperated with the State of North Carolina to address PFAS concerns, and has agreed to a court approved Consent Order and its addendum, which was entered by the court yesterday. Our investment in emissions control technology has significantly decreased GenX emissions by 99% and our thermal oxidizer continues to destroy PFAS with greater than 99.99% efficiency. We continue to decrease PFAS loading to the Cape Fear River and began operation on September 30, 2020 of a capture and treatment system for one pathway at the site. Under the CO Addendum, Chemours will take a number of measures to address PFAS loadings from other pathways, including onsite groundwater to the Cape Fear River.”