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United Nations criticizes ‘forever chemical’ contamination in North Carolina

Experts from the United Nations issued a statement this week criticizing companies for chemical contamination in North Carolina.

In a statement, a group from the U.N. that included Marcos Orellana, special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, called out chemical companies DuPont and Chemours.

“Even as DuPont and Chemours had information about the toxic impacts of PFAS on human health and drinking water, the companies continued to produce and discharge PFAS,” they said. 

“DuPont and Chemours have produced, marketed and profited from PFAS for decades, contributing to a global toxic contamination problem,” they added. 

The statement also said the experts have “grave concern” about reports that Chemours has applied for a permit to expand its PFAS production. 

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is the name of a broad class of chemicals that have been found to be pervasive in U.S. waterways and in people. 

Exposure to such substances has been linked to increased risk of certain cancers, fertility issues and weakened immune systems. They tend to remain in the environment for a very long time instead of breaking down, earning the nickname “forever chemicals.”

In the North Carolina area, a particular compound, known colloquially as GenX, is one of several forever chemicals that have been detected.

In a formal response, Chemours said that it has taken a “broad and unprecedented set of actions, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, to eliminate almost all PFAS discharges” from its Fayetteville Works chemical facility.

It noted that it has also made alternate drinking water sources available to people who have been found to have high concentrations of the chemicals in their water supply.

DuPont said that it should not be implicated, saying it is separate from the company that used to own the facility due to a series of corporate mergers and spinoffs.

In 2015, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which owned the Fayetteville facility, spun off a part of its business into a new company called Chemours.

E.I. du Pont de Nemours later merged with Dow Chemical, to become DowDuPont, but later split off part of that business into the company known today as DuPont. 

The U.N. also knocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the court system for “shortcomings” that “undermine [the] community’s right to information and their right to an effective remedy.”

It particularly raised alarm about a now-scrapped plan that would have allowed Chemours to import PFAS waste from the Netherlands.

The EPA said that it withdrew its conditional approval for Chemours to send PFAS-containing wastewater shipments to its facility in North Carolina because Chemours submitted inaccurate information.

Chemours said that it “proactively disclosed” a calculation error and that the amount being imported would have been “far below” what the EPA approved in its original permit.

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