PFAS is being emitted by companies that are paying fines and continuing to operate.
This month, North Carolina officials fined DuPont $300,000 for GenX admission violations, which was the second time this year the company has been penalized. It’s factories, according to state regulators, have exceeded limitations on how much of the chemical can be emitted. GenX is a chemical of the pre- and polyfluoroalkyl substance family (PFAS). PFAS is in a number of everyday items, including household staples like pots and pans and certain jackets. Years ago, regulators warned about it being detected in baby products, including bottles and pacifiers. Exposure to PFAS can have deadly consequences. It has been directly linked to cancer and other serious health issues, including organ damage.
Just a few months ago, Brian Long, a senior executive at Chemours, a chemical company, also took the media on a tour of its Fayetteville Works factory to put the plant’s new antipollution technologies on exhibit. The system, according to the company, was specifically designed to stop GenX from leaking into the Cape Fear River as well as making its way into the air and or into groundwater. “They’re not Band-Aids,” Mr. Long said. “They’re long-term, robust solutions.” And, yet, just months later, the company was fined.
PFAS substances are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down over time. They stay in the environment forever, as well as build up in the bloodstream and can’t be eliminated from the body. To avoid responsibility regarding PFAS emissions, Chemours, DuPont, and 3M according to environmental experts, have used a variety of ways persuade regulators and lawmakers that they’re being responsible and don’t need to continue to be closely inspected. They’ve even cited that they’re using PFAS alternatives, which they claim are less dangerous when, in fact, they’re equally as detrimental.
“You don’t have to live near Chemours or DuPont or 3M to have exposure to these things,” said Linda S. Birnbaum, the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “It is in the water. It is in our food. It’s in our homes and in our house dust. And, depending on where you live, it may be in our air.”
Since 2018, unsafe levels of PFAS have been “found in the groundwater of more than 4,000 residential parcels near the Chemours factory in Fayetteville, N.C.,” according to the state’s environmental regulator. Moreover, high concentrations of GenX were “found in 232 of those parcels. More than 4,000 homes qualify for under-sink treatment systems because of the contamination.”
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Michael S. Regan, said, “PFAS contamination has been devastating communities for decades. I saw this firsthand in North Carolina.”
However, Chemours argues, “Most of the pollution in North Carolina occurred” before it “owned Fayetteville Works.” Thom Sueta, a company spokesperson, said the Fayetteville factory “wasn’t the only source of pollution in the Cape Fear River” and that Chemours “has spent more than $100 million on new emissions control technologies at the factory.”
DuPont, which built its factory in the 1960s, claims it “can’t be held liable” simply “because of a corporate reorganization” that happened a few years ago. Further, its spokesperson, Daniel A. Turner, said, “DuPont does not produce the chemicals in question, and we are not in a position to comment on products that are owned by other independent, publicly traded companies.”