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North Carolina Sues For Damages In 'Forever Chemicals' Release

File photo of a protest sign in front of Chemours' President of Fluoroproducts Paul Kirsch during a community meeting hosted by the chemical company Chemours at Faith Tabernacle Christian Center in St. Pauls, N.C. on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.
Ben McKeown

The state of North Carolina sued on Tuesday to seek financial damages from companies associated with so-called “forever chemicals” released for decades from a Bladen County plant into the Cape Fear River.

Attorney General Josh Stein, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed against companies related to DuPont Co. and its spinoff The Chemours Co., accused the firms of knowing the dangers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that were produced at the factory.

GenX, a type of PFAS, has been found in drinking water wells near the plant and also the municipal utility serving the city of Wilmington, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) downstream. The lawsuit, filed in Cumberland County state court, seeks financial compensation from the companies to the state for investigating the contamination, providing remediation and restoring water supplies.

The litigation comes two months after Stein announcedhis office would investigate the manufacturers of PFAS and other potential sources of the chemicals.

Some research shows high levels of certain PFAS may lead to increased risks for kidney or testicular cancer, increased cholesterol levels and health challenges for children, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“DuPont and Chemours have dumped PFAS into North Carolina’s drinking water even as they knew these forever chemicals pose threats to human health and our natural resources,” Stein said in a news release. “These companies maximized their profits at the expense of the people of North Carolina. That’s wrong. I am taking DuPont and Chemours to court to make them pay for the mess they made.”

In 2015, a Chemours subsidiary formally took over the Fayetteville Works plant from DuPont, which had been manufacturing PFAS, at least as a byproduct, there since at least 1980, according to the lawsuit. PFAS are used in industrial processes to make things like nonstick coatings and fire suppression foams. The chemicals do not break down when released into the environment.

Dan Turner, a DuPont spokesman, said in an email the company believes the lawsuit is without merit and looks forward to defending itself.

In a prepared statement, Chemours said it's reviewing the lawsuit. Since becoming an independent company in 2015, the statement said, Chemours has “taken definitive action to address active emissions and historic deposition at our Fayetteville site, and continues to do so."

Chemours noted it's already entered into a consent decree with state environmental regulators in which it’s agreed to dramatically reduce PFAS air emissions, prevent the chemical’s discharge into the Cape Fear River and provide clean drinking water to private well-users nearby. A Bladen County judge accepted Monday an addendum to that order designed to reduce further contamination of the river.

Stein's lawsuit goes further, demanding a judge declare the companies acted negligently and fraudulently. Stein, a Democrat seeking reelection next month, also wants DuPont and Chemours to give up profits attributed to unfair and deceptive trade practices.

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