Chemours claims GenX is necessary in the fight against climate change

Attorneys also question EPA’s science, say restricting GenX could harm US economy
Chemours claims GenX is necessary in the fight against climate change
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 12:25 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 12:34 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Attorneys for the embattled chemical company Chemours are pushing back against a GenX Chemicals Toxicity Assessment issued last fall by the Environmental Protection Agency. The company says the EPA’s science is “flawed,” that GenX is being used to produce products that help the environment, and that GenX is essential to modern manufacturing.

These claims are part of a 124 page “Request for Correction of GenX Chemicals Toxicity Assessment” filed with the EPA in March by Arnold & Potter, attorneys for Chemours. Attorneys say that the EPA’s assessment “significantly overstates the potential human risks” associated with GenX, relying on rodent liver experiments that “are not relevant to humans.”

Moreover, Chemours says its company’s fluropolymers, which GenX is used to produce, are “essential for countless industries.” They note that they are “used in every car, airplane, and cell phone” as well as in medical equipment like catheters, saline bags, and filtration devices that supply oxygen to newborn babies.

“We support science-based regulation that is protective of public health and the environment, and we are committed to manufacturing our advanced chemistries responsibly – including by working to achieve our ambitious corporate responsibility goals. We submitted a Request for Correction to the EPA regarding its toxicity assessment for [GenX] – a compound we use in our manufacturing processes to make high-performance fluoropolymers – because the assessment was inconsistent with the best available science and contrary to the EPA’s own scientific standards. We share this Administration’s commitment to scientific integrity and we will continue to work with the EPA to ensure that the errors in this assessment are addressed and corrected,” a spokesperson for Chemours said in a written statement issued to WECT.

Chemours critics have balked at the company’s Request for Correction, including Rob Bilott, an environmental attorney who famously sued Chemours’ parent company, DuPont, in 1999. As a result of his work, which inspired the feature film Dark Waters, DuPont was ultimately held liable for poisoning a West Virginia community with PFAS or “forever chemicals” manufactured at their plant. The EPA fined DuPont over $10 million dollars for deceiving regulators and the public about the negative health effects of those chemicals.

“This is the same kind of argument we’ve been hearing for several decades now... It’s just remarkable to see how the spin continues, trying to implicate these chemicals with products that will resonate with consumers,” Bilott told The Intercept in reaction to Chemours’ Request for Correction. “They’re trying to create fear that by actually regulating these chemicals that present a public health threat, you’re going to force people to make choices about these products.”

Sharon Lerner is an investigative reporter for The Intercept who has been covering PFAS chemicals since 2015. That’s the same year DuPont completed its phase out of PFOA (also known as C8) and created its spinoff company, Chemours, to manufacture PFOA’s replacement, GenX.

“Remember, they’re phasing out PFOA because it causes cancer and other health problems. And they know this because of animal data, and later human data. But what I found when I began to research Gen X in 2015, 2016 really, was that they had submitted a number of studies, more than a dozen studies to the EPA, that showed that GenX the replacement causes the same constellation of health problems in lab animals, including cancer. So that information was submitted by DuPont to the EPA, the EPA had it and they nevertheless entered into a consent order with the company allowing them to make and emit it in North Carolina,” Lerner said.

During the course of her reporting, Lerner said it was “eye opening” to see how much power DuPont had. She said she learned that several DuPont executives had previously worked at the highest levels of the EPA, and were still in direct contact with people working for the government. Lerner said DuPont executives were able to guide the wording of the press release about the transition to GenX and other key details of the consent order using their influence.

“When you think of a regulatory agency finding out that there’s a chemical in people’s drinking water that causes cancer, you would expect they’re going to ban it. Well, clearly, they still haven’t banned it, right? And the initial discovery in West Virginia was around 1999, 2000. They’ve had information about this for more than 20 years. [It’s] still not banned. So part of it has to do with the strength of the company, right, and its powerful connections to the regulatory agency. And the other part of it, I would say, has to do with the agency itself, and how difficult it is under the best circumstances to regulate... The EPA, it’s a big, lumbering agency, and it’s afraid of legal action,” Lerner explained of her theory on why these toxic chemicals are still in production.

Lerner said Chemours’ current strategy of attacking the science behind the EPA’s toxicity assessment, saying that GenX is essential to modern manufacturing, and even to helping the environment by reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, is straight out of the playbook for chemical manufacturers.

“I can tell you, having reported on a lot of different chemicals, including these two, is that this is not unusual, unfortunately. This Request for Correction and this kind of approach to a toxicity assessment that is going to cost [Chemours] some money. So what they’re doing, essentially, is throwing a lot of arguments out there and saying, you know...first, your science is flawed. Second, we absolutely need these to fight climate change. Third, [we need them to manufacture] cell phones... This is something companies do, unfortunately. And it is a kind of tried and true way of delaying regulation,” Lerner said.

She added that the potential economic impacts of restricting GenX should have no bearing on the toxicity assessment. It’s either toxic or it isn’t. The difficulty now is determining how to reduce the use of, or make the transition away from using these highly utilized but toxic chemicals.

“If these are being widely used now, well, it’s not a sustainable approach to environmental health,” Lerner concluded. “What I found in my research is that there are patents already for non-fluorinated alternatives to producing these chemicals. And the experts I spoke with assured me that it certainly is possible to make these things without these chemicals. I think it may take, in some cases, some time to phase out. But what I was hearing was even in these essential uses, we’re talking about five to 10 years is what it ought to take, maximum.”

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is suing Chemours for polluting the region’s drinking water supply. CFPUA spokesman Vaughn Hagerty says a $36 million dollar filtration system to remove the majority of GenX from the water is set to go online this summer. Utility administrators hope that Chemours will ultimately be forced to pay for it, but at the moment, customers are covering the cost of the new system.

“Chemours and DuPont spent decades releasing GenX and other PFAS into the Cape Fear River and the environment in general.... We continue to find [Chemours’] PFAS in the water,” Hagerty told WECT. “There are obviously reasons why the EPA did what it did in terms of developing the very low reference dose for GenX that it released recently.”

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