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New Hanover County Sues Manufacturers Over PFAS Impact

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Jan 16, 2024
New Hanover County filed a lawsuit against dozens of companies it deems responsible for contaminating the region's water and air with harmful chemicals.(File photo)
New Hanover County filed a lawsuit last week against 27 companies making or selling materials contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The county announced the lawsuit's filing in a Tuesday news release. PFAS are “forever chemicals,” that have reportedly contaminated the region’s air, groundwater and surface water for years, county officials stated in the release. They added that the suit aims to hold the named companies responsible and claims they knowingly discharged the harmful chemicals into the environment, in some cases for 50 years.

“Certain defendants have used the environment surrounding the Fayetteville Works facility as a dumping ground for hundreds of chemicals while assuring the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies that they were doing no such thing,” the lawsuit states.

E. I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company (Dupont) and its entities allegedly dumped Gen X and PFAS compounds from the Fayetteville facility directly into the Cape Fear River, according to the lawsuit. The factory is also accused of pumping millions of pounds of PFAS substances into the air.

Much of the contamination originated from factories, county officials stated in Tuesday's release, but the suit also states a significant amount of contamination came from foam used to extinguish fires, which was “common practice” among local fire departments. Aqueous film-forming foam contains PFAS and caused “widespread PFAS contamination,” according to the legal documents.

The foam posed risks to local firefighters and residents due to its contamination of the environment, the county release states. New Hanover County no longer uses firefighting foam containing PFAS.

“The blatant disregard for the health and well-being of our citizens and the environment is something we as County Commissioners take very seriously and it’s why we have authorized this litigation,” New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Rivenbark said in the release.

The county hopes to recover some of the expenses required to address PFAS contamination and to compensate the county for past and future harm created by the defendants, the lawsuit states.

A more than $43 million project to install Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filters in the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority's (CFPUA) Sweeney Water Treatment Plant in October 2022 aimed to help mitigate water contamination. The filters continue to require up to $5 million in maintenance costs each year, according to the county. The Sweeney Water Plant supplies water to 80% of CFPUA’s customers and gets its water from the Cape Fear River, according to CFPUA's website.

The contamination in the Cape Fear River likely originated in The Chemours Company and DuPont chemical plant about 100 miles upriver from Wilmington, according to CFPUA officials. CFPUA filed a federal lawsuit in 2017 against Chemours and DuPont to recover costs and damages from the contamination of the Cape Fear River. The trial is expected to take place at the end of next year.

In June, a more than $1 billion settlement was reached between companies Chemours, DuPont and Corteva Inc. and several municipalities with contaminated water systems that serve the "vast majority" of the U.S. population, according to a joint statement from the companies. 

The defendants named in the New Hanover County lawsuit are The Chemours Company, The Chemours Company FC LLC, E. I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company, DuPont De Nemours Inc., Corteva Inc., 3M Company, AGC Chemicals Americas Inc., AGC Inc., Archroma Management LLC, Archroma U.S. Inc., Arkema Inc., BASF Corporation, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Carrier Global Corporation, ChemDesign Products Inc., Chemguard Inc., Chemicals Incorporated, Chubb Fire LTD., Clariant Corporation, Deepwater Chemicals Inc., Dynax Corporation, Kiddie PLC Inc., Nation Ford Chemical Company, National Foam Inc., Raytheon Technologies Corporation, Tyco Fire Products LP, UTC Fire & Security Americas Corporation Inc. and 49 John Doe defendants.
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