When drinking water supplies around Fayetteville, North Carolina proved to be contaminated, all fingers pointed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) manufactured at Chemours’ Fayetteville Works plant. U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. called a roundtable meeting to discuss the pollution. The meeting included various local officials, but the A-list attendee had to have been federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Wheeler Calls for Change at Chemours
Prior to the roundtable, Wheeler said in an interview with The USA Today Network that the chemical manufacturer should switch production to a less dangerous type of PFAS, according to coverage in The Fayetteville Observer.
Wheeler explained that 1,200 types of PFAS exist. Newer forms of these “forever chemicals” (so-called because of their long half-lives) are safer than original types of PFAS, Wheeler added. Chemours, however, manufactures the older form of PFAS. “Those need to be replaced and phased out,” Wheeler said. “They phased out Teflon years ago,” Wheeler told interviewers.
Chemours manufacturers GenX, a chemical that was introduced over a decade ago as a safer alternative to the chemicals used in making Teflon and other non-stick surfaces. In 2018, the EPA released its draft toxicity review for GenX and another compound known as PFBS. The report indicated that extremely tiny doses of the chemicals posed serious health risks to the immune system, kidney, thyroid, or liver—as well as harming prenatal development.
PFAS Are Everywhere—and in Everyone
National Geographic explains that although consumers can be exposed to PFAS through a wide range of products—from cookware to firefighting foam and clothing to furniture—contamination of drinking water tends to originate from nearby manufacturing plants, wastewater treatment facilities, and other facilities that handle these chemicals. In fact, according to testing by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS is found in every blood sample the agency takes.
How the Chemours Contamination Was Discovered
In 2017, N.C. State University researchers announced they had discovered potentially dangerous levels of PFAS in the drinking water originating from the Cape Fear River. The public utilities that used this water—including systems in Brunswick, Wilmington, Pender, and New Hanover counties—are located downstream of the Chemours plant.
The State of North Carolina sued Chemours, resulting in a court order for the chemical company to stop intentionally discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River. In 2019, the EPA contended that Chemours Fayetteville Works had violated the Toxic Substances Act, and the agency issued a notice of violation on this issue.
Research Triangle Park researchers from the EPA are in the process of creating methods for tracking the manufacturing point of origin for PFAS. Such a tool would prove immeasurable in helping to identify problem areas with PFAS around the country.
Furthermore, the EPA has implemented new requirements prohibiting the manufacture of new types of PFAS without express permission from the EPA, who will investigate to make sure the chemicals’ production does not pose a threat or health risk to the environment or to people.