Read the full article by Sharon Lerner (The Intercept)
“CHEMOURS HAS OFFERED a novel argument in defense of one of its toxic PFAS chemicals, known as GenX: that the compound, which causes cancer and other health effects in lab animals and was released by the company into the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people, is necessary for the fight against climate change.
Chemours, a chemical company that was spun off from DuPont in 2015, made the case for GenX as an environmental good in response to a toxicity assessment of the chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency finalized in October. The EPA document set a safety threshold for GenX based on studies showing that it causes liver effects in rats, including cancerous tumors. But in a March 18 request for correction, Chemours’ attorneys asked the agency to weaken its threshold, arguing that GenX is necessary for the country’s transition away from fossil fuels.
‘Chemours’s chemistries are critical to achieving the United States’ energy transition and decarbonization ambitions,’ attorneys from the firm Arnold & Porter wrote, going on to note that GenX is used in the process of creating compounds called fluoropolymers, which are used to make lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, membranes used for water purification, and hydrogen from renewable sources.
The company, which makes GenX in its plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and uses the chemical at its facilities in New Jersey and West Virginia, also insisted that continued domestic production is important for U.S. energy independence: ‘There are often no domestically manufactured alternative replacement products available for these mission-critical applications.’
According to Chemours, which reported net sales of $6.3 billion last year, restrictions on GenX are not just a threat to the company’s bottom line. Noting that ‘fluoropolymers are used in every car, airplane, cellphone, as well as semiconductor and computer chips’ and are also used in the production of ‘the vast majority of prescription drugs,’ the company’s attorneys argued that the ‘EPA’s Toxicity Assessment, unless corrected, has the potential to cause significant harm to Chemours as well as to the broader United States economy.’
…Environmental scientists agree with Chemours on at least one point: that GenX is now used to make fluoropolymers that wind up in a wide range of products, including, as the company’s attorneys pointed out to the EPA, computer chips, light-weight vehicles, and ‘piping and vessels to protect employees from harsh chemicals.’ Such economic facts are irrelevant to the science about the chemical — and have no place in a toxicity assessment, according to Linda Birnbaum, who directed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and served as the country’s chief toxicologist until 2019. Still, said Birnbaum, ‘the issue that they raised — that PFAS are everywhere — that’s absolutely true. The point is that it’s a bad thing.’
The thornier question is how to make those products without using such dangerous chemicals. Some manufacturers have already begun to create fluoropolymers without PFAS — one did so back in 2008. Still, a full transition away from GenX will take time, according to Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action. ‘If it’s currently necessary in the moment, I would say it’s not necessary in the long run,’ said Rossi. ‘If you said, from today, you have to be out of all PFAS in manufacturing in five to 10 years, I’d say that’s a reasonable timeline.'”…