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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

EPA will reconsider requiring Chemours to fund PFAS testing, a petition rejected by outgoing Trump administration

Vince Winkel
Numerous PFAS or 'forever chemicals' end up in the Cape Fear River, in large part because they are unregulated by the EPA.

The Biden-administration Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to reconsider a petition which would force a polluter to investigate the health impacts of its PFAS pollution of the Cape Fear River. That may not be surprising, since the new EPA director has considerable first-hand experience with the issue.

Chemours, a chemical company in Fayetteville, North Carolina, has been releasing Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, into the Cape Fear River for decades.

The so-called “forever chemicals” can stay in the human body for a lifetime, and some are linked to cancers, endocrine disorders, and other health problems. The specific chemical Chemours puts into the river, GenX, has received plenty of media attention — but fewer medical studies than earlier-generation chemicals.

While Chemours has faced new regulations since its dumping was publicized in 2017, there are still higher levels of PFAS in the Cape Fear river than in almost any other part of the country. And PFAS are still not yet officially regulated by the EPA or the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

But this week, the EPA agreed to reconsider a petition which would force Chemours to pay for health studies of some of the newer PFAS compounds the company releases into the river. The petition was denied under the Trump administration in January, but will now be reconsidered under Secretary Michael Regan’s administration within 90 days.

Although some of the petitioners, a group of six North Carolina public health and environmental justice groups, expressed frustration with past delays, they are hopeful that Regan will be more amenable to the petition.

Regan was the head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality during the PFAS crisis in the Cape Fear, and set up new regulations for Chemours during that time.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.