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New Hanover County sues over a dozen PFAS manufacturers, sellers

A civil suit, filed by New Hanover County against numerous PFAS manufacturers on Friday, January 12, 2024, in New Hanover County Superior Court.
New Hanover County
A civil suit, filed by New Hanover County against numerous PFAS manufacturers on Friday, January 12, 2024, in New Hanover County Superior Court.

New Hanover County has filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen PFAS manufacturers, ranging from legacy chemical companies to smaller, firefighting foam companies.

The county’s lawsuit follows a wave of similar lawsuits by local and state governments last year, from Delaware to Wisconsin to Washington State. It targets the makers of PFAS, or forever chemicals, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, immunological effects, and reproductive effects.

New Hanover County’s suit, like those in other locales, targets PFAS manufacturers across the board: nationally known companies like Raytheon, Dupont, and 3M, alongside lesser-known manufacturers like Chubb Fire and BASF.

Chemours, the owner of the Fayetteville Works plant that has put GenX into the Cape Fear River for decades, made the list as well.

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Rivenbark said the companies have shown a “blatant disregard for the health and well-being of our citizens and the environment,” which is why the commission authorized the lawsuit. “For decades, companies have allowed these toxins to be released into the air we breathe and water we drink. They’ve also knowingly used PFAS in products that were crucial to public safety but were also contributing factors to contamination. It’s time they were held accountable for their actions and made to be a part of the solution for a problem they created.”

County Commissioner Dane Scalise says the aim of the lawsuit isn’t just to recover financial damages, but to raise awareness.

“I think that this is a systemic issue. We do not want the people of this county to be poisoned by anybody. And unfortunately, some of these chemicals that are out there have a tendency to do just that," Scalise said.

The lawsuit targets legacy PFAS manufacturers like Dupont, which are known to have contaminated the environment around and downstream from their plants. But the county is also going after the manufacturers of AFFF, a forever chemical used for firefighting that may cause various cancers.

“Clearly, firefighters are keeping us safe, we need to be keeping them safe. And this is an attempt to help to achieve that moving forward,” Scalise said.

The lawsuit was filed in New Hanover County Superior Court on Friday, and describes how Dupont and other manufacturers knew about the dangers of PFAS chemicals very early — in the 1950s, in the case of DuPont — but continued to manufacture them and willfully contaminate the environment anyway.

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.