Seeking damages for decades of contamination, North Carolina sues Chemours and DuPont
North Carolina filed a lawsuit in a Fayetteville court Tuesday alleging that DuPont and then Chemours knew for decades the threats to human health posed by GenX and other perfulorinated chemicals that they were discharging into the Cape Fear River.
“My job as attorney general is to protect the people of North Carolina and our natural resources,” N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein told The News & Observer. “I am offended that DuPont has dumped PFAS into our drinking water even as they knew these forever chemicals threatened human health. I am taking them to court so that they pay for this mess they have created.”
DuPont opened the Fayetteville Works plant near the Bladen-Cumberland county line in 1968, spinning part of the facility off to Chemours as part of a 2015 restructuring. That move was widely viewed as an effort to mitigate the original company’s exposure to lawsuits around C8 and other PFAS chemicals, something the North Carolina suit alleges.
“Old DuPont knew that Chemours was undercapitalized and could not satisfy the massive liabilities that it caused Chemours to assume,” the suit states. “Old DuPont also knew that the Chemours Spinoff alone would not isolate its own assets from its PFAS liabilities and that DuPont still faced direct liability for its own conduct.”
The North Carolina lawsuit moves to reverse some of the protections afforded by DuPont’s split, asking the court to create a constructive trust for the assets that were part of pre-2015 DuPont. Those assets would then be available for any relief the court would deem appropriate.
“Defendants should not be permitted to hide behind corporate machinations intended to avoid responsibility for the injuries they caused in North Carolina,” the lawsuit states.
In 2017, after the Wilmington StarNews reported that GenX had been found in the drinking water used by much of the city, a then-Chemours official told local officials that the process that created GenX as a byproduct started in 1980.
Lisa Randall, a Chemours spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the company is still reviewing the filing. Chemours has, Randall noted, been an independent company since July 1, 2015.
“Since that time, Chemours has taken definitive action to address active emissions and historic deposition at our Fayetteville site, and continues to do so. … Our investment in emissions control technology has significantly decreased GenX emissions by 99% and our thermal oxidizer continues to destroy PFAS with greater than 99.99% efficiency,” Randall wrote.
North Carolina’s suit comes a day after the company, Cape Fear River Watch and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality finalized an updated consent order. The updated order requires Chemours to treat on-site stormwater in a manner that removes 99% of PFAS and to address four groundwater seeps that are discharging contaminated groundwater into the nearby Cape Fear. That will result in a subsurface barrier wall and a groundwater extraction system being put in place by March 2023.
Stein announced in August that he was launching an investigation into manufacturers and “other parties” that contaminated North Carolina with PFAS, a class of chemicals known as “forever chemicals” because of their long-lasting qualities. At the time, Stein said his investigation would seek to understand the extent of the damage GenX and other PFAS caused to the state’s natural resources while also evaluating contamination in groundwater, soil and surface water elsewhere.
Tuesday’s lawsuit is the first action to come out of that investigation. But Stein said it is “not an end point” and that he is also investigating PFAS contamination elsewhere in the state.
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