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Ross Leads North Carolina Colleagues Urging EPA to Reconsider Trump-Era Decision, Require Chemours to Fund Health Testing for Toxic Substance Exposure

June 16, 2021

PFAS have contaminated the Cape Fear River watershed, which serves as the main drinking water source for nearly 300,000 people

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02), along with Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-08) and 5 other members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Michael Regan urging the EPA to reconsider a Trump administration decision to deny a citizens’ petition filed by a group of NC-based environmental health and justice groups in 2020. The petition, filed under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), requested that EPA exercise its authority under TSCA to require Chemours to fund robust health and environmental testing for 54 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) manufactured by Chemours at its Fayetteville facility.

PFAS are “forever chemicals” which are found in numerous everyday household items, air, water, and soil. According to EPA, PFAS do not break down naturally and are known to cause cancer, birth defects, thyroid disease, hormone disruption, immune system suppression, and other serious effects. As a result of Chemours’ operations in Fayetteville, PFAS have contaminated the Cape Fear River watershed, which serves as the main drinking water source for nearly 300,000 people, and have been found in the bodies of people in several impacted communities, reflecting the presence of these chemicals in groundwater, drinking water, air, and local produce.

On January 7, 2021, former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued a decision to deny the citizens’ petition, which cited serious human health and environmental concerns. EPA has the authority and obligation under TSCA to order Chemours to fund the testing necessary to understand how its chemicals are affecting the health of exposed people and the environment. The agency’s own assessments conclude that certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time, resulting in numerous life-threatening health diseases. 

The letter read in part, “We write to you to express our deep concern regarding the January 7, 2021 decision of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under former Administrator Andrew Wheeler to deny a petition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to require human health and environmental testing on 54 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) linked to the Chemours facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  We request that you inform us of your plans to reconsider the petition denial and require Chemours to fund studies necessary for North Carolina communities to understand the impacts of long-term PFAS exposure on the health of their residents.

“…We believe that Cape Fear River communities and North Carolinians must be informed of the health consequences of long-term PFAS exposure and that Chemours has a responsibility under TSCA to fund the research necessary to address their concerns. As members of Congress, the health, welfare, and safety of our constituents are a shared priority. We urge you to exercise your authority under TSCA to hold Chemours accountable and order the testing necessary to understand the human health effects of PFAS contamination on the people in the Cape Fear River area.”                          

The letter was signed by Representatives David Price (NC-04), Kathy Manning (NC-06), G. K. Butterfield (NC-01), Alma Adams (NC-12), Madison Cawthorn (NC-11), and is supported by various Environmental Groups including the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Cape Fear, Advance Carolina, Cape Fear River watch, and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Kathryn Alcantar, Policy Director, Center for Environmental Health said, “When Congress amended TSCA in 2016, it strengthened EPA’s authority to order companies who are responsible for polluting drinking water sources to pay for the necessary research into the human health and environmental effects of the chemicals they release from their facilities.  CEH and its North Carolina partners believe that it is time for EPA to use its TSCA authority to hold Chemours accountable for using Cape Fear River communities as Guinea pigs and order Chemours to test the 54 PFAS identified in our petition.  Exposed North Carolina residents and their families deserve this critical information about the health risks to which they have been and continue to be exposed.” 

Emily Donovan, Co-Founder, Clean Cape Fear said,"We have PFAS in our blood and tap water and no one can tell me what these exposures mean for our health. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and school children in my community are still drinking some of the nation's highest levels of PFAS in tap water--we deserve answers and we deserve for the chemical companies responsible to pay for those answers. I'm grateful to see Rep. Ross and Rep. Hudson taking bipartisan action to address NC's PFAS contamination crisis."

La’Meshia Whittington, Deputy Director, Advance Carolina said,We are urging the US EPA to reconsider the PFAS petition to require the agency to invoke the authorities under TSCA for more testing at the Chemours facility. Rural communities, low-income and people of color face greater risks of exposure, since they’re not only more likely to live near polluting facilities but also more likely to eat fast food meals that come in PFAS packaging, live in rental units with PFAS-laden carpeting, or drink from contaminated water supplies. At the same time, these populations are less likely to be able to afford bottled water or the filtration systems that effectively remove PFAS contamination from their water. It’s the burden of cumulative impact that we’ve had to shoulder.” 

Geoff Gisler, Senior Attorney and SELC’s Clean Water Leader said, "Research is a critical part of the response to the widespread PFAS contamination we've seen across North Carolina and the country. We're grateful for Representatives Ross and Hudson's support for more data and testing. EPA should grant this petition and direct state agencies to use existing statutory authority to keep these forever chemicals out of our rivers and our communities."

Dana Sargent, Executive Director, Cape Fear River Watch said, “PFAS are ubiquitous and persistent, and their vast array of human health impacts do not discriminate based on political affiliation.  We are grateful that our North Carolina legislators are making clear that clean water – and protecting human health and the environment – are not partisan issues.  EPA, for far too long, has lost sight of its mission.  We are counting on EPA, under the leadership of Administrator Regan, to do their job and put the burden where it belongs, on the PFAS polluters, whose decades-long reckless and feckless corporate greed created this mess.” 

Alexis Luckey, Executive Director, Toxic Free NC said, "EPA should use its full authority to hold polluting companies responsible for contaminating North Carolina with PFAS chemicals and paying for the research needed to get a full picture of the health impacts of exposure. These risks are shouldered inequitably by those downstream, especially by communities of color and low-income and rural populations. Addressing widespread PFAS contamination in North Carolina must become a bipartisan issue. We applaud Representatives Ross and Hudson for recognizing the urgency of this problem impacting our state."

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