Environment

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.

Commentary, COVID-19

Pandemic fuels stunning growth in the wealth of the super-rich

U.S. needs a special one-time wealth tax to fund services, ease widespread suffering

One probably shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s still stunning to learn just how handsomely the super-rich have been faring in recent months at the same moment that millions of Americans are struggling to find enough to eat.

This is from a recent post by Chuck Collins of Inequality.org:

US Billionaire Wealth Up $850 billion Since March 18th; Global billionaires up $1.5 trillion

The combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by $850 billion since March 18th, 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, an increase of over 28 percent.

On March 18, 2020, U.S. billionaires had combined wealth of $2.947 trillion.  By October 8th, their wealth has surged to $3.8 trillion ($3.798 billion to be exact).

The stock market has been going up and down in recent weeks with billionaires holding steady.  On September 18, total billionaire wealth was $845 billion. Billionaires have seen huge gains over the last six months as millions of Americans have lost their jobs, health and savings, if not their lives.

At the global level, billionaires are big winners during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a recent UBS report, the roughly 2,189 global billionaires now have $10.2 trillion. This is an estimated increase of $1.5 trillion during the pandemic looking at both UBS and Forbes billionaire data from 2019.

This updates our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report that looked at “pandemic profiteers” and put forward a number of policy recommendations. One new recommendation is for an emergency pandemic billionaire wealth tax to fund urgent health care and state and local aide.

And this is from an essay that Collins and Frank Clemente of Americans for Tax Fairness published this summer:

It is time to levy an emergency wealth tax on billionaire profiteers and direct the funds to offset the cost of the nation’s health-care costs.

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—backed by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Ed Markey of Massachusetts—has introduced the Make Billionaires Pay Act to recapture over half the extreme wealth gains made by billionaires during the pandemic. The bill proposes a one-time, 60% tax exclusively on billionaires’ gains between March 18 and the end of this year. It would raise about $420 billion, based on the increased wealth of the country’s billionaires as of Aug. 5.

…Even with the new tax, billionaires would still have an estimated $310 billion in gains during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

As Collins and Clemente note in conclusion:

COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented health and economic crisis that no one should be excessively profiting from. Yet many billionaires are making huge hauls during a time of suffering and sacrifice.

In the past, our leaders took action to curb such profiteering in times of crisis.
During World War II, Sen. Harry Truman held congressional hearings on war profiteering, exposing the ways some corporations grabbed profits during wartime sacrifice. Under President Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. levied an excess profits tax on companies profiteering during the Korean War.

Today, the choice is stark: Do we enable 500 or so billionaires to further concentrate wealth and power during a pandemic, or do we tax the gains of these billionaires to improve the health and welfare of our country?

How we face this extraordinary inequality is the ultimate test of what kind of country we are and what we will become.

Defending Democracy, News

Agreement reached on fixing absentee ballots with errors

Image: NC State Board of Elections

After a great deal of litigation and public debate, it appears that we now know what the deal will be for absentee ballots that contain errors on the envelopes in which they’re returned.

As WRAL.com reports:

The State Board of Elections will go back to its old way of dealing with absentee ballots mailed in without a witness signature: The voter will have to fill out a new ballot and get a signature for his or her vote to count.

The decision came over the weekend, and Attorney General Josh Stein’s office informed one of the two courts overseeing various lawsuits filed over the procedure, and a handful of others, that the policy shift would take effect Monday.

And this is from Raleigh’s News & Observer:

Voters whose absentee ballots have problems with their envelopes can now expect contact from board of elections offices in order to fix their ballots by Election Day.

And less than 24 hours after North Carolina added new guidelines on handling those problems, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that ballots could be collected through Nov. 12 if they were postmarked by 5 p.m. Nov. 3, Election Day.

The deadline extension approval is still pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

WRAL also reports that:
Other problems can be fixed by just having the voter fill out an affidavit/certification. Those include if the voter didn’t initially sign the ballot’s voter certification, if he or she signed in the wrong place, if the witness signed but failed to print his or her name as well, or if the witness did not print his or her address on the ballot envelope.
Unfortunately, a fix sought by voting rights advocates that would have allowed people to swear via affidavit that they are who they say they are if there is a problem with a witness signature — a safety provision that all five members of the Board of Elections agreed to earlier this year — is not a part of the final agreement. That said, there appears to be grounds for optimism that virtually all of the several thousand North Carolinians with absentee ballot errors will get a chance to have their votes counted.
This continues to be a developing story.
Defending Democracy, News

Five NC counties that are crushing it when it comes to early voting

This marks the first full week of early voting in North Carolina, and experts believe turnout will continue to be strong. As of Monday, more than 1.5 million total ballots have been cast in our state. More than 608,744 have voted by mail, and more than 918,224 have taken advantage of one-stop early voting.

Looking at counties by percentage of registered voters, here’s where turnout has been heaviest:

Data as of October 19 at 5 a.m. Source: NC State Board of Elections.

Even in the largest counties, like Wake and Mecklenburg, 1 in 5 registered voters has already cast their ballot.

Want to vote, but still unsure about whether to vote in person or absentee?

Make time to listen to our weekend interview with veteran North Carolina election law expert and Wake County Board of elections member Gerry Cohen:

Wake County Board of elections member Gerry Cohen (Photo by Clayton Henkel)

Click here to find your one-stop early voting site.

Ten Tips for early voting.

Defending Democracy, News

More than one million North Carolinians have already cast their ballots

North Carolinians are wasting little time in making their voice heard in the 2020 election. As of Saturday morning, more than 1.2 million votes had been cast through early voting and mail-in ballots.

That amounts to more than 17 percent of the state’s registered voters, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

“We’re glad to see so many North Carolina voters performing their civic duty and letting their voice be heard by voting,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

Voter turnout is very much on the mind of  Rev. Dr. William Barber.

The co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and founder of the Moral Monday movement urged North Carolinians on Thursday not to squander the next two weeks.

Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, Repairers of the Breach,  the North Carolina NAACP, Forward Justice and the NC Black Alliance were crisscrossing the state this week in a statewide get out the vote (GOTV) initiative.

“Voting in North Carolina is not just a day, it’s a season, and we ought to use it,” said Barber during a Raleigh press conference.

Would-be voters can also take advantage of same-day voter registration now through October 31st.

And Barber said despite efforts to suppress the vote, North Carolinian do not need a photo ID this election.

Voters who received an absentee ballot by mail also have the option of delivering their ballot to an election official at a one-stop early voting site when that site is open for voting.

“There is no excuse – no excuse – for anybody to not register their truth and their vote,” Barber said.

Click here to find your one-stop early voting site.

For a breakdown of voter turnout by county, click here.