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Lawsuit against EPA over PFAS testing continues, court opinion to come

Grace Vitaglione
Audience members held signs protesting PFAS contamination at a press conference held by Cape Fear River Watch and other advocate groups on Tuesday.

Cape Fear River Watch and other clean water advocates continue to push a lawsuit against the EPA in the latest stage of the battle over PFAS testing.

In 2020, Cape Fear River Watch and other activist groups signed on to a petition, demanding that the EPA force Chemours to test 54 types of PFAS chemicals.

The agency says it granted the petition; but in reality, they only agreed to make Chemours test 7 of those chemical types. Many of the others would be covered under national testing, according to the EPA.

They also rejected a request for an epidemiological study of Cape Fear residents with long-term PFAS exposure — and declined to study the effects of how different PFAS chemicals interact with each other.

Related: EPA says it's granting NC groups' PFAS petition, advocates call it 'offensive' and 'smoke and mirrors'

Petitioners sued over what they called a quote “smoke and mirrors strategy” by the EPA. They said Cape Fear residents are in a unique position after decades of exposure and need separate studies.

The EPA moved to dismiss the lawsuit.

Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear and one of the petitioners, says the EPA has the full authority to grant their request.

“My belief is that Chemours is enough of a fear for the EPA that they’re not wanting to use their full authority," she said.

Petitioners pointed to the Toxic Substances Control Act as the basis for the EPA’s authority to fully grant their request.

On Tuesday, a federal district court judge heard the case and said he will release a written opinion — although without providing a timeline. If the judge decides to throw out the case, petitioners may appeal. If not, both sides would be able to bring in expert witness testimony to hear from scientists.

The EPA declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.