A Wilmington-based grassroots group Thursday filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Commission in an effort to ultimately stop an upstream manufacturing company from expanding operations.
Clean Cape Fear, in collaboration with the University of California Berkley Environmental Law Clinic, asks Marcos Orellana, U.N. special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, to remedy human rights violations related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water sources.
The group has asked Orellana for a statement “confirming violations of residents’ right to clean drinking water, protection from toxic chemicals, and a healthy environment; their right to information; and their right to an effective remedy,” according to the 36-page complaint.
“The pervasive toxification of human bodies and the ecosystem of the lower Cape Fear River watershed with PFAS that persist essentially forever lends particular urgency to controlling these toxics at their source,” the complaint states. “We urge the [special rapporteur] to use his full powers of investigation and exhortation to challenge government and corporate leaders to honor and protect North Carolinians’ basic human rights.”
The complaint also asks Orellana to make the following requests:
- North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, deny Chemours’ permit to expand some of its operations at its Fayetteville Works facility in Bladen County.
- Chemours and parent company DuPont reimburse water utilities upgrading their filtration systems to remove PFAS from drinking water.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry immediately fund and begin large-scale human epidemiological studies on specific PFAS exposures.
- EPA eliminate nonessential uses of PFAS.
“Clean Cape Fear demands, among other remedies, that corporate polluters be held accountable for water treatment and clean-up costs for all impacted residents, and that North Carolina regulators deny Chemours the permit it currently seeks to expand production of PFAS chemicals at its Fayetteville Works facility,” according to a release. “This is the first time that a U.S. group has put in a formal request to the United Nations to characterize a community’s pervasive PFAS contamination as a human rights violation under international law.”
Clean Cape Fear formed after the public in 2017 learned for the first time that Chemours had for decades been discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River, the raw drinking water source for tens of thousands of residents in the region.
The company has since agreed in a consent order with Cape Fear River Watch and DEQ to reduce the amount of PFAS it emits into the air and river.
Chemours announced last year plans to expand its monomers and Nafion production facilities at the Fayetteville Works plant, a move met with fierce opposition by residents worried about the overwhelmingly unknown health effects of PFAS, which remain largely understudied.
“We live in one of the richest nations in the world, yet our basic human rights are being violated,” Clean Cape Fear Co-Founder Emily Donovan said in a statement. “We refuse to be a sacrifice zone. Residents here are sick and dying and we continue to lack equitable access to safe water in our region, or the necessary health studies to truly understand the impacts from our chronic PFAS exposures.”
Claudia Polsky, director of UC Berkley Environmental Law Clinic, said in a statement Clean Cape Fear’s complaint “provides a legal road map for restoring Cape Fear communities to health, and for preventing further PFAS harms in North Carolina and beyond.”
“The Cape Fear River toxic exposure crisis has its origins in weak U.S. chemical safety laws, the underenforcement of laws that do exist, and political leaders’ insufficient will to hold polluters to account,” she said.