The Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, the NC Black Alliance, and Toxic Free NC filed an October 30, 2020 petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting testing for the toxicity and health impacts of 54 PFAS “forever chemicals” detected in the Cape Fear Watershed.
“For decades, our communities have suffered silently from PFAS contaminated water. All the while, polluting corporations have continued to profit from our pain. Our dedicated team of community groups, legal counsel, and scientists have provided EPA with the tools to clearly and swiftly act to save our people. It’s straightforward: approve our petition, clean up our communities and make the polluter pay,” said La’Meshia Whittington of the NC Black Alliance, when filing the petition.
After the Trump Administration denied the request for testing in one of its last environmental acts, the groups asked the Biden administration to reconsider. They had good reason to expect a different outcome.
The current administration has committed to gathering as much data as possible on PFAS. Michal Ilana Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, told the Committee on Energy and Commerce that EPA was “scouring all sources of information to identify important gaps in existing data and to select representative chemicals within identified categories or additional testing.”
In September, the EPA responded to petitioners with a commitment letter stating that the agency would expeditiously reconsider the denial of the petition and decide within 90 days whether to grant the petition and require testing.
In October, EPA administrator Michael Regan visited Raleigh to announce the new federal PFAS Strategic Roadmap and a national testing plan for the chemicals. The plan would cover 30 of the chemicals identified in the Cape Fear basin, with seven of the substances being tested directly under the category-based strategy. Another nine chemicals could be tested later.
In a statement released Tuesday, December 28, 2021, the agency announced it had granted the petition. “Communities in North Carolina and across the country deserve to know the potential risks that exposure to PFAS pose to families and children,” says Regan. “By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people.”
The response comes as a disappointment to petitioners, however. They allege that the EPA’s action essentially amounts to a denial of their requests to study mixtures found in communities downstream of the Chemours facility in Fayetteville, emissions and discharges and in the blood of area residents. Instead of conducting epidemiological studies, the agency will use computational models, which petitioners say is of little value to understanding the past exposure and ongoing contamination.
Regan has previously said his experience as North Carolina DEQ chief has had a tremendous impact on the way he has dealt with regulatory efforts at the federal level but critics say this most recent decision flies in the face of that pronouncement.