Read the full article by Karl Baker
“Wilmington’s Chemours and its investors appear largely unfazed by a federal plan announced Thursday to stringently regulate the environmental releases of chemicals that already have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.
Chemours didn’t mention the plan Friday in announcing its year-end financials. The company said its future is promising, buttressed by growing sales of refrigerants and Teflon-related products, as well as higher prices for industrial paints and sealants.
The Delaware chemical company reported profits of almost $1 billion in 2018, its best performance since it split from DuPont in 2015. The good times are expected to continue through 2019, the company said.
Its stock price closed at $37.73 on Friday, down 2.5 percent for the day, but still up 30 percent since the new year. Chemours employs about 1,000 people in Delaware at its headquarters and labs. It expects to move into $100 million new labs at the University of Delaware STAR campus in 2020.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it plans to place maximum allowable limits on the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid — which DuPont used in Teflon until a decade ago — in soil and water. The EPA also plans to more rigorously study the health effects of GenX, which replaced PFOA.
Following its 2015 split from DuPont, Chemours stock languished as a cloud of 3,550 PFOA lawsuits hung over the company. Litigants in those lawsuits alleged that they suffered harmful health consequences from the release of the chemical into the environment around a West Virginia plant.
In 2017, Chemours and its former parent, DuPont, settled the West Virginia lawsuits for $670 million. Investors viewed the deal positively for the company as it removed the uncertainty from years of potential litigation.
Long-term exposure to PFOA can cause cancer and developmental problems in fetuses or nursing infants and can impact the liver, immune system, thyroid and cholesterol levels, according to the EPA.
The health effects of GenX are less clear, but studies on animals have shown links to liver, pancreatic, testicular and uterine cancers, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
Last year, Chemours spent $35 million to clean up GenX pollution around its Fayetteville, North Carolina, plant. Contamination in the area’s groundwater and in the Cape Fear River had sparked a handful of lawsuits from local jurisdictions and homeowners.
Chemours settled one such lawsuit brought by North Carolina’s environmental agency in November for $13 million.
Now, Chemours will spend another $100 million for equipment at factories in North Carolina and in the Netherlands designed to prevent harmful spills and releases of GenX.
Yet, on Wednesday, the EPA served Chemours with another regulatory action. The federal regulators claimed in a violation notice that it failed to promptly disclose that GenX had contaminated water wells and properties in North Carolina and West Virginia.
Even so, Chemours appears upbeat. While the company is legally liable along with DuPont for past PFOA pollution, Chemours does not use the chemical, a spokesman pointed out.
PFOA does not break down in the environment.
The company is reviewing the EPA’s action plan to determine how it best can contribute to the effort, Chemours spokesman David Rosen said.
Chemours also has claimed that it will reduce emissions of GenX by 99 percent or greater.