Tell President Biden and US EPA to hold PFAS polluters accountable in North Carolina

President Joe Biden

Over 1.5 million residents of southeastern North Carolina, many of whom are people of color or low-income, have been exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water from the river basin.

A coalition of groups have formally petitioned the U.S. EPA to force the polluter Chemours to pay for epidemiological studies on the 54 different PFAS chemicals that have been found in the region.

While residents continue to lose friends and family due to rare forms of cancer, and drinking water fountains at schools remain taped off, Chemours seeks to expand its operations, and the EPA refuses to use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to hold a known polluter accountable.

This is environmental injustice in action - and it has to stop.

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To: President Joe Biden
From: [Your Name]

President Joseph R. Biden The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W. Washington, DC, 20500

Dear President Biden,

We write to ask you to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require Chemours to conduct proper testing for the health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The Chemours Fayetteville facility has been polluting the has been polluting the air, soil, water, and food supply in the Cape Fear region for four decades.

Over 1.5 million residents of Eastern North Carolina, many of whom are people of color or low-income have been exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water drawn from the river basin. EPA Administrator Regan has said that the Fayetteville Works Plant on the banks of the Cape Fear River has “been polluting our air and our water with these ‘forever’ chemicals since the ‘70s.”

Several nonprofit organizations and community groups petitioned the Agency in 2020 under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA Testing Petition) to require Chemours to fund toxicity testing of 54 PFAS currently contaminating the region in the Cape Fear River Basin. With Chemours now planning to expand its facility, it is more important than ever that North Carolinians understand how current, historic, and future PFAS pollution affects their health.

Chemours has touted the expansion as necessary for the increased manufacturing of semiconductors in North Carolina. As you know, many heavy industries are using your strong work on climate change to campaign for increases in other dangerous manufacturing. This “lock-in” strategy, suggesting that an increase in the manufacture of toxic chemicals is necessary to combat the “lock-in” of fossil fuels, is disingenuous, and dangerous. It would constitute a failure by EPA to live up to its own commitments in its October 2021 PFAS Roadmap, and your Administration to live up to its commitments to environmental justice, if the Agency does not grant the TSCA Testing Petition. We, the undersigned residents of North Carolina, supporters across the United States, and allied organizations urge you to direct EPA to carry out its mandate for the scientific, moral, and legal motivations detailed below.

EPA is refusing to protect communities most impacted by PFAS pollution.
EPA should use every tool at its disposal to stop the accumulation of PFAS in our bodies and the environment. The TSCA Testing Petition is asking for these tools to be used in a way that centers environmental justice and accurate science. Section 4 of TSCA, as amended by the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act (15 U.S.C. § 2603) grants EPA the authority to require Chemours to fund testing of substances or mixtures it manufactures, uses, or disposes of at its Fayetteville facility that may present a risk to human health and the environment.

The testing of the 54 PFAS requested in the petition is supported by the increased rates of cancer and other mysterious afflictions from Cumberland County to the coast. The TSCA Testing Petition applies to chemicals that have been documented to be in surrounding air, soil, food supplies, human blood and drinking water. EPA has already determined that these PFAS present an unreasonable risk- when it dubiously “granted” our petition, but then refused to require the testing within it.

The TSCA testing plan in EPA’s novel PFAS Roadmap aims to study a small number of PFAS and extrapolate those findings to other chemicals in an effort to establish much needed regulations regarding PFAS uses and releases. However, the EPA’s internal TSCA testing plan does not adequately address the needs of this vulnerable and overexposed region. The EPA only plans to test for 7 of the PFAS in our petition and fails to include comprehensive human epidemiological studies and mixture testing which would provide valuable information this contaminated region needs to better inform medical care and monitoring. Our TSCA petition asks the EPA to use its full legal authority and order testing for just 54 of the 300+ PFAS being released into the Cape Fear River and surrounding environment. These chemicals are not only contaminating the region’s primary source of drinking water, they are also washing up along local beaches.

Accurate scientific information on how PFAS affects human health is a basic right this community should be afforded, and at the expense of the corporation who contaminated their community, not at the expense of taxpayers. On January 4, 2023, EPA issued a TSCA Section 4 test order to Chemours, DuPont and 3M to conduct testing on one high production volume PFAS (HFPO). HFPO Dimer acid, often called GenX, is one of the 54 PFAS in our petition. EPA has not ordered testing of the actual mixtures of HFPO and other PFAS that are present in North Carolinians’ bodies, drinking water, and food supply. The resultant data will therefore not provide the information petitioners have requested, and doctors across North Carolina need.

EPA’s actions against our petition do not live up to its own Roadmap to address PFAS
The petitioners brought litigation when their TSCA Testing Petition was initially denied by Administrator Wheeler. The case remains active because Administrator Regan did not grant the petition as the Agency claims. Assessing the cumulative risk from multiple chemical stressors is a critical aspect of centering environmental justice in risk management, including the health risks posed by PFAS as EPA itself notes as part of its PFAS Roadmap. Thus, the motion to dismiss our lawsuit is in contradiction to the Agency’s previous commitments.

EPA’s PFAS Testing Plan, announced in October 2021 as part of the Roadmap, asserted that EPA would issue its first phase of TSCA Section 4 testing orders for 24 “representative” PFAS by the end of 2021. However, it was not until June 2022 that EPA issued its first phase I testing order for only one of the 24 “representative” PFAS. EPA did not issue the second testing order until January 2023. It is clear that the Agency does not feel the urgency to determine the health risks of these PFAS felt by Cape Fear communities, and the petition and lawsuit remain the only way for these communities to obtain the most relevant data.

EPA’s denial of our petition does not live up to the Biden Administration’s commitments to environmental justice.

In its 2022-2026 strategic roadmap, EPA committed to pursuing three strategies to make transformative progress on Environmental Justice . The first is “building capacity and climate resilience and maximizing benefits to overburdened and underserved communities.” The federally- administered Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool as well as the state Administered North Carolina mapping system each show heavy pollution burdens and low socioeconomic attainment in many census tracts in the Cape Fear River basin. Granting the TSCA Testing Petition would fulfill EPA’s promise to build capacity and maximize benefits in these communities by enabling them to truly understand how PFAS affects their health and therefore provide them agency for their health and advocacy activities.

The second strategy is “engaging and supporting federal, state, and local governments to achieve results in communities.” The TSCA Testing Petition is essentially asking for EPA to require the health studies of PFAS contamination that North Carolinians have been exposed to for multiple generations. EPA must grant the TSCA Testing Petition to endow the State with the knowledge to support their efforts to protect the public and environmental health of communities in North Carolina.

“Integrating environmental justice principles into the implementation of federal environmental programs in Indian country and in other areas of interest to Tribes, in partnership with federally recognized Tribes” is the third and final strategy. EPA must grant The TSCA Testing Petition to meaningfully achieve environmental justice in Cape Fear’s Tribal and other Indigenous communities. Be they Federally, State, or not formally recognized, the sovereignty of Indigenous communities in North Carolina can only be acknowledged via Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). EPA must take into account the disproportionate impact to Indigenous communities in the Cape Fear Basin because they may eat more fish, game, and wild plants contaminated by PFAS from the Chemours Fayetteville facility. By refusing to order Chemours to fund the testing requested in the TSCA Testing Petition the Agency is in flagrant violation of this principle.

We appreciate the opportunity to bring attention to this matter and for the continued work of the Administration to protect human health, the environment, and communities on the frontlines of the effects of harmful PFAS chemicals.