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Governor “needs a spanking,” “Some say GenX is good for you” and other bizarre quotes about PFAS from state lawmakers

Kelly Hair, who lives near the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant, pleads with state regulators in 2018 to clean up the GenX and PFAS contamination. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

A state bill to more strictly regulate PFAS that Rep. Pricey Harrison “should sail through” is already in choppy waters because of opposition by Chemours and other business interests.

A House committee held a contentious hearing this morning to discuss HB 1095, which would authorize the state’s Environmental Management Commission to adopt a maximum contaminant level for one or more types of toxic PFAS, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances compounds.

Depending on exposure levels, PFAS have been linked to multiple health problems, including thyroid disorders, reproductive and fetal development problems, immune system deficiencies and kidney and testicular cancers. In addition to drinking water, PFAS are found in microwave popcorn bags, fast food containers, stain- and grease-resistant fabrics, and hundreds of other consumer products.

Policy Watch will have more coverage of the committee meeting in a story tomorrow morning, but in the meantime, here is a timeline of major revelations and Chemours violations, as well as legislative inaction, even outright hostility, toward regulating Chemours and PFAS.

This is based on previous Policy Watch coverage since 2017.

2010 and 2015
DuPont meets with DEQ (then DENR) and maintains no contaminated effluent would reach the Cape Fear River because the manufacturing process is a “closed loop.”

November 2016

Tom Reeder, DEQ assistant secretary for environmental protection, is copied on an email from NC State scientists alerting him and the Division of Water Resources to problems with GenX in drinking water.

June 2017

Star-News of Wilmington reports on GenX contamination in Cape Fear River, drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.

After DEQ starts sampling the Cape Fear River and at the Chemours plant, the company halts its GenX discharges into the waterway. Chemours issues a statement: “We continue to believe that emissions from the Fayetteville facility have not impacted the safety of drinking water.  However, Chemours will take these additional steps, embracing its role as a significant employer and member of the community.”

August 2017

The state Senate Republican caucus sends a letter to Gov. Cooper questioning whether “any additional appropriations could make a meaningful difference in water quality and public safety in the Lower Cape Fear region” and if Cooper was simply engaging in “public relations.” Letter signed by Sens. Bill Cook, Trudy Wade, Andy Wells, Rick Gunn, Michael Lee, Norm Sanderson and Bill Rabon.

EPA finds more PFAS chemicals coming from Chemours even though it has stopped discharging GenX into river. Levels of the Nafion byproducts range from 2,900 to 73,000 parts per trillion from the Chemours outfall to 53 ppt to 7,860 ppt in finished drinking water. Chemours did not list GenX or any of these recently discovered compounds in its federal discharge permit.

October 2017

Rep. Jimmy Dixon says people who have politicized the issue, including Gov. Roy Cooper, “need a spanking.” That politicization, Dixon claimed, has provided grist for the rumor mill. “How do we do this” — advising the public on the risks — “without scaring the puddin’ out of Mr. and Mrs. Public?”

“Folks are scared to death. The testing has been blown out of proportion. It’s not like the [lab] mice fell over dead when they were injected with GenX. People die every day. There have been no tests showing it harms humans. There are no abnormal levels of cancer, but people are blaming GenX for their cancers for the past 30 years.” — Rep. Bill Brisson (R-Bladen)

“Are we scaring people?” Is there an uptick in cancer in these regions? We don’t want to incite panic.” — Rep. Bob Steinburg, a Republican representing several counties in northeastern North Carolina

Chemours has an illegal spill of GenX, but doesn’t report it for a month.

January 2018

“Chemours is serious about cleaning up the contamination/ Don’t blame Chemours totally. Maybe they made mistakes. They’re trying to do their best to do what’s right.” — Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret)

February 2018

DEQ sends a letter Chemours detailing the company’s refusal to comply with the agency’s requests to control the release of PFAS from its Fayetteville Works plant.

“Past behavior predicts future behavior. This is going to be a long, long, long process and you should avail yourselves of the court system.” — Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, to concerned residents regarding DuPont/Chemours.

April 2018

DEQ says Chemours intentionally misled regulators about discharges.

November 2018

Chemours emits nearly 40 times higher levels of GenX-related compounds into the air than it reported.

Company issues statement on a proposed consent order with DEQ: “This agreement is an example of how industry can work with stakeholders at the local and state level to address these concerns. We are committed to operating with transparency and a bedrock commitment to a sustainable future. We intend to live up to our commitments with actions not just words.” — Paul Kirsch, president of Chemours’ fluoroproducts business unit

January 2019

Chemours reveals it has exported GenX waste from the Netherlands to Fayetteville for the past five years “for recycling.”

February 2019

EPA cites Chemours with multiple notices of violation, including failure to provide key documents.

“Dilution is the solution to pollution.” — Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin)

September 2019

Kirsch of Chemours tells U.S. House committee that it will not compensate people harmed by PFOA or PFOS, ostensibly because its corporate predecessor, DuPont manufactured those compounds.

October 2019

According to a new analysis of preserved samples from 2014 to 2016, PFAS were found at concentrations of at least as high as 130,000 parts per trillion near Lock and Dam No. 1, near the drinking water intake for the City of Wilmington.

March 2020
FDA says chemical replacements for PFOS and PFOA more toxic than thought.

May 2020

EPA Inspector General finds communication breakdown within EPA allowed Chemours to discharge GenX into Cape Fear.

House Democrats introduce bill to ban sale, production of PFAS in NC. Goes nowhere.

August 2020

Cumberland County Commissioner Michael C. Boose, while in a public meeting with EPA Administrator  Andrew Wheeler, posits that GenX is good for you. “No one knows. Some people wonder, is GenX making them live longer? Is it curing vision problems? There’s so much mystery about it.”

March 2021

DEQ fines Chemours $200,000 for failing to comply with consent order

April 2022

Chemours agrees to pay $305,000 for air quality violations

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Governor “needs a spanking,” “Some say GenX is good for you” and other bizarre quotes about PFAS from state lawmakers