Read the full article by Myron B. Pitts (The Fayetteville Observer)

“Activists plan to gather Saturday to protest at the Chemours Fayetteville Works off N.C. 87 at the Bladen and Cumberland county line.

It has become a familiar ritual over the years, ever since the plant was found to have spread chemical contamination to nearby wells.

A specific focus of Saturday’s protest, which is scheduled for noon, is the surprise announcement last month that Chemours was authorized by the Environmental Protection Agency to import up to 4 millions of pounds of GenX from the Netherlands to its Fayetteville-area plant. The compound is part of a group of per-and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAs) substances and has been linked to cancer in animal studies.

Last week, the EPA requested that Chemours pause the imports, according to NC Newsline. Chemours has paused the shipments at least to Dec. 1.

The protest will proceed anyway, said Vickie Mullins. She is a Bladen County resident whose family has been using bottled water for six years due to the GenX contamination of her family’s well.

‘They’re still bringing it,’ she said about the pause on GenX imports. ‘All they done was put it off because they knew we was going to protest. That’s all it is.’

Chemours did not immediately respond to a media inquiry about its plans to import GenX after Dec. 1.

The company is required to offer several mitigation efforts for its contamination, including providing bottled water and/or water filter systems in certain areas, as part of a consent order with state environmental advocates and officials.

Mullins said that people on Saturday would also protest other ongoing concerns over GenX in addition to the imports.

The protest will be ‘a little bit of everything to be honest with you,’ she said.

Pushback against GenX imports

Pushback against the imports played a role in pausing the imports, Newsline reported, citing an unnamed EPA official.

On Nov. 7, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to Michael S. Regan, the EPA administrator, in which Cooper urged the agency to block the imports. Regan is the former director of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. That agency, which Regan headed until the spring of 2022, has been the lead state agency in dealing with GenX contamination.

In response to the intended imports, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously at its Nov. 6 meeting to send resolutions to members of the county’s U.S. congressional delegation and to Cooper. Commissioners are expected to vote at their Monday meeting on the resolution and a cover letter to Regan.

The county already has a lawsuit against Chemours over compensation for the contamination. A trial is set for March 10 of 2025, a county spokesman said.

In the resolution, according to a county news release, the commissioners express ‘that they are adamantly opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to allow Chemours to export GenX from its plant in the Netherlands to the Fayetteville Works plant.

‘The Board also directed that the resolution be sent to the Boards of Commissioners in the other counties that would be affected by the decision to ask that they adopt similar resolutions opposing the decision.’

Among its many allegations against Chemours, the resolution states: ‘A Dutch court found Chemours liable for environmental damage from forever chemical pollution from its Netherlands facility, and the company’s executives are currently under criminal investigation in the Netherlands for ‘deliberate release of PFAS’ from its plant there since 1967.’

In the cover letter to Regan, the letter states the county expects full transparency when it comes to GenX shipments.

‘Communities that are potentially impacted by transportation on rail or highway should be notified as well,’ the letter states.

It continues: ‘The County Manager must be made aware of the fate of the non-recycled amounts of PFAS and how/where these chemicals will be destroyed so they do not pose a threat to this community. Chemours has had unintended worker exposures to PFAS as recently as last month within their plant. It is clear they continue to struggle to manage these chemicals properly …’

A pause on imports — but for how long?

GenX can spread in the air and groundwater, and it and other PFAS are called ‘forever chemicals’ because they can last thousands of years.

GenX is used in non-stick coatings, food packaging, cleaning products and foam used in firefighting. They have been linked to cancer and other severe health problems in animal studies. Contamination from the compounds have also spread to the Wilmington area in the lower Cape Fear River Basin.

Government officials and activists hope Chemours will abandon plans to import GenX altogether. 

Dana Sargent, director of Cape Fear River Watch, called the pause ‘significant.’ She said an EPA official told her group that no shipments of GenX have been sent and that none will happen before Dec. 1. 

‘If they didn’t put this pause on, that would be, in my mind, more concerning,’ she said. ‘I think the EPA wants to do what’s right here, and they are very clear on the fact that this is wrong.’ 

Sargent speculates that the EPA higher-ups were as surprised as she was at the initial approval the agency granted to the shipments.

‘They realize they screwed up,’ she said.

But she said whether it was a mix-up or an intentional decision by EPA leaders, it was still a ‘massive mistake.’

‘My hope is Secretary Regan is on this and he’s going to put a stop to it,’ she said.”