Home Business North Carolina 'Forever Chemical' plant violates human rights, UN panel says

North Carolina 'Forever Chemical' plant violates human rights, UN panel says

by SuperiorInvest

The dumping of contaminated wastewater from a chemical plant into the Cape Fear River began more than four decades ago, making the river's water undrinkable for 100 miles.

This week, responding to a petition from community groups in North Carolina, a United Nations panel called the pollution a human rights issue.

The UN's concerns about human rights violations, the kind of claims Americans might be more accustomed to seeing directed at foreign countries, broaden the scope of a global fight over the harms of what are known as forever chemicals. or by its acronym PFAS. They are the subject of a years-long dispute over their dangers.

Chemours, the chemical giant that took over the plant in 2015, and DuPont before it, “are completely ignoring the rights and well-being of residents” along the river, a panel of U.N. human rights experts said. .

The contamination continues “even though DuPont and Chemours had information about the toxic impacts of PFAS on human health and drinking water,” they said, using the acronym for polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of chemicals, many of which are toxic.

Chemours said it was “committed to responsibly manufacturing and producing products consistent with international principles.” The products it makes at its Fayetteville, North Carolina, plant contributed to “vital technologies for green hydrogen, electric vehicles and semiconductor manufacturing,” the company said. Chemours is currently moving forward with plans to expand the Fayetteville plant.

DuPont has rejected claims that it is responsible for the Fayetteville plant, which it spun off as part of a corporate restructuring in 2015.

PFAS are human-derived chemicals that companies have used to make a wide range of water- or grease-resistant products, including nonstick cookware, pizza boxes, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foam and some cosmetics. They do not break down naturally, but accumulate in the environment, blood and organs of people and animals.

Research by both chemical companies and academics has shown that exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancer, liver damage, birth defects and other health problems. A newer type of PFAS, GenX, which Chemours manufactures at its Fayetteville plant, was designed to be a safer alternative to previous generations of chemicals. However, new studies are discovering similar health risks.

State regulators have repeatedly fined the Fayetteville plant for exceeding emissions limits, and over the years the Environmental Protection Agency has also issued a series of violations. In 2021, the agency began requiring chemical manufacturers to test and publicly report the amount of PFAS in household items as part of what it calls its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a strategy to protect public health and environment.

Still, the U.N. panel, made up of special rapporteurs from its Human Rights Council, said both the EPA and local regulators had “failed in their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses.” . That included failing to provide affected communities in North Carolina “the type and amount of information necessary to prevent harm and seek redress,” the panel said.

The EPA declined to comment. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Local environmentalists called on Chemours to stop its expansion in Fayetteville and focus on cleaning up the pollution.

“We still have residents in our region who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water,” said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, which last year asked the United Nations to open a human rights investigation.

“We are finding PFAS along our beaches, in locally grown produce, and in locally caught fish. It is also in the air and in rainwater,” he stated. However, “Chemours wants to expand production and make more PFAS.”

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