Two class action lawsuits, representing thousands of North Carolinians, filed vs Chemours over PFAS contamination

In 2002, modeling by DuPont, now Chemours, showed air emissions from the Fayetteville Works plant would form an airborne hotspot over Willis Creek, contaminating waterways, soil and neighborhoods with toxic PFAS.

Thousands of people in North Carolina are suing Chemours and several employees, alleging they knew releases of toxic PFAS — perfluorinated compounds — from its Fayetteville Works plant were contaminating properties and drinking water supplies.

Filed in Bladen County, the two class action lawsuits name Chemours and its related companies, DuPont and Corteva, as well as three employees: site manager Brian Long, in charge of installing pollution controls at Fayetteville Works; environmental manager Michael Johnson; and former site manager Ellis McGaughy.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for multiple allegations, including negligence, nuisance, trespass, “failure to warn,” “unjust enrichment” and civil conspiracy.

One case involves dozens of residents living within three miles of Chemours Fayetteville Works plant. All of the residents’ drinking water wells were highly contaminated with GenX and other types of PFAS, well above the state’s and EPA’s recommended health goal.

These households are receiving alternative water supplies from the company, required under a consent order with the state and Cape Fear River Watch. However, the consent order “does not resolve ongoing damage to property,” court documents read. That includes the cost of electricity to power whole-house filtration systems, remedies for contaminated plumbing fixtures, and a decrease in property values.

The lawsuit also alleges that these residents “lost their ability to use their land” for growing fruits and vegetables, the use of personal swimming pools and other recreation on their respective properties.

Some of the contamination occurred because of discharges and runoff from the Fayetteville Works plant, but others are the result of air emissions from the facility’s stacks. The compounds left the stacks, floated in the air and then landed on the ground, contaminating groundwater, soil, creeks, rivers and lakes.

DuPont’s own modeling in 2002  showed that Fayetteville Works’s manufacturing processes “would create an airborne plume with a hot spot directly over Willis Creek, which flows near residential areas and into the Cape Fear River,” court documents read.

The second case focuses on thousands of downstream households who drank contaminated water processed by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. CFPUA gets its water from the Cape Fear River, which has been contaminated with GenX and other types of PFAS. The utility has since installed advanced technology to sharply reduce the concentration of these contaminant. However, the cost for a full upgrade is estimated at more than $45 million, much of which will be passed on to ratepayers. CFPUA is also suing Chemours to recoup these expenses.

Exposure to PFAS has been linked to higher rates of thyroid disorders, kidney and liver cancer, ulcerative colitis, high blood pressure during pregnancy, low-birth weight, and other serious conditions.

As result, court documents read, plaintiffs “suffer a present and future increased risk of illness …” which has caused them to “have present and future medical need for diagnostic testing for early detection of those illnesses.”

A Chemours spokeswoman said the company could not comment on the litigation. In general, companies do not discuss ongoing litigation.

Beth Markesino, who lives in Wilmington and is a co-founder of Stop GenX In Our Water, told Policy Watch that “for the last three years our scientists, journalists, lawyers and environmental groups have been working hard to peel back the layers of Chemours’s and DuPont’s toxic deceit. DuPont has known for decades the harmful effects of their chemicals but chose profit over protecting our communities in North Carolina. … I personally believe that as a combined global effort we are rewriting how future generations will govern environmental laws and regulations. Each contaminated community is learning and sharing vital information with another, and corporate polluters will not be able to discharge like they did 50 years ago.”

Last week, NC Attorney General Josh Stein announced his office was also suing Chemours for the damages it and DuPont have caused to “North Carolina’s drinking water supplies, fisheries, and other natural resources.” It also asks the court to void certain corporate transactions among the companies — a complex scheme designed to shield billions of dollars in assets from the State and others who the companies knew were damaged by their conduct.

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