New Hanover County is suing more than a dozen makers and vendors of products made with chemical compounds that are a source of contamination in the area’s drinking water.
County officials filed a lawsuit Friday in New Hanover County Superior Court in an effort to hold accountable the manufacturers and sellers of products that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, according to a release.
“The blatant disregard for the health and well-being of our citizens and the environment is something we as County Commissioners take very seriously and it’s why we have authorized this litigation,” New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Rivenbark said in the release. “For decades, companies have allowed these toxins to be released into the air we breathe and water we drink. They’ve also knowingly used PFAS in products that were crucial to public safety but were also contributing factors to contamination. It’s time they were held accountable for their actions and made to be a part of the solution for a problem they created.”
The county’s lawsuit is the latest in a lengthening string of legal challenges being brought against companies that manufacture and use PFAS, chemicals that are found in everything from stainproof carpets and food packaging to waterproof clothing and makeup and firefighting foams.
“These products have inadvertently contributed to the pollution of our environment, posing health risks to our firefighters and residents,” according to the release.
This year will mark the seventh since the public was made aware that PFAS, including a compound known as GenX, were for decades being discharged into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for tens of thousands of people in the region.
PFAS were also being released into the air and ground from Chemours Fayetteville Works facility, a chemical manufacturing plant nearly 80 miles upstream of Wilmington.
Thousands of private drinking water wells continue to be tested in the region for elevated levels of PFAS contamination.
Human health studies suggest PFAS may have adverse impacts on immune systems, liver, low birth weight and increased risk of certain cancers, including prostate, kidney and testicular cancers.
To curb the amount of PFAS exposure to residents, New Hanover County discontinued using firefighting foam that contains the chemicals.
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in October 2022 initiated a more than $40 million carbon filtration system to remove PFAS from its drinking water supply. The system costs about $5 million annually to maintain.
As part of a 2019 consent order, Chemours is required to block much of the PFAS produced at the Fayetteville plant from entering the river, air and ground.
Owners of private drinking wells in the region are encouraged to take part in a well-testing program at no cost to the homeowner.