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U.N. Human Rights Agency weighs in on PFAS contamination

by Bob Bannerman

According to a November 27, 2023 press release issued by the local grassroots advocacy group Clean Cape Fear, on Thanksgiving Day the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) published five letters it sent in September to DuPont, Chemours, the Dutch company Corteva, the United States, and the Netherlands.

These letters were in response to a communication written in April by U.C. Berkeley Law’s Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of Clean Cape Fear, seeking redress for alleged human rights violations associated with PFAS exposures coming from the Chemours Fayetteville Works facility.

To date three of the recipients have responded to the U.N. letters — Chemours, the Netherlands, and Corteva. The United States and DuPont have yet to respond.

The UNHRC letters expressed “serious concern regarding human rights and environmental impacts” from activities associated with Fayetteville Works. Those concerns include “apparent disregard for the wellbeing of community members,” “purposeful suppression and concealment of information on the toxic character of PFAS,” and “failure to fully assume responsibility and adequately address the negative impacts” on communities in the lower Cape Fear River watershed. The letters further stated: “We remain preoccupied that these actions infringe on community members’ right to life, right to health, right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment, and the right to clean water, among others.”

Clean Cape Fear calls Chemours’ response to the U.N. allegations “a classic corporate gaslighting. First, Chemours is not ‘a relatively new company’— its high-level employees are experienced historic Dupont executives. Second, Chemours has focused its response mainly on GenX, when its PFAS pollution along the Cape Fear River encompasses hundreds of other PFAS chemicals. And even concerning GenX, Chemours continues to fight EPA’s effort to establish a health advisory level, denying the chemical’s adverse health impacts.”

Clean Cape Fear also criticizes Chemours’ response letter for focusing its remediation efforts solely on private well owners’ water while ignoring the half-million public utility customers who have had to self-pay for their water filtration.

The UNHRC letter to the U.S. Government reflects private citizens’ concerns that the EPA has not adequately addressed the full scope of harm caused by the wide range of PFAS, choosing instead to focus its current regulatory efforts on only a small number of molecules in this class.

Harper Peterson, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear and former Mayor of Wilmington, NC, remarked: “Unfortunately, our state and federal agencies have not measured up to the task at hand in protecting the public's health and safety. Fortunately, a small and persistent voice of local residents and community groups, demanding accountability, has not been deterred. Our voice has now garnered the attention and support of the U.N. and its Human Rights Council. The battle is on a higher ground now, framed by international law and violations of basic human rights.”

The Brunswick County Democratic Party applauds and stands fully behind the efforts of Clean Cape Fear and other concerned citizen groups to fight for our basic human rights to clean water and a safe and clean environment. With the added pressure and attention of the United Nations, we are hopeful the toxic legacy of the DuPont/Chemours Fayetteville Works will finally be effectively and equitably addressed.

Editor’s note: Bob Bannerman, an active member of BCDP, serves as the chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee.


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