North Carolina Poisoned Water

This is a very serious story that isn't getting near the attention that it requires.

The Environmental Protection Agency gave DuPont the green light to start using a new chemical they called ‘GenX’ in place of an older option called PFOA, all known as C8, back in 2009. GenX is used to produce cookware with nonstick surfaces, and it is produced by one of the offshoots of DuPont, a company called Chemours. According to that company, GenX is completely sustainable and provides a toxicology profile that is both favorable and rapidly eliminated from the environment. Unfortunately for the public, the studies put forth by Chemours to tout their new product were actually generated by the company itself and not a third-party research firm.

It has been pointed out by Larry Cahoon, a biology professor at UNC in Wilmington, that GenX has properties of an emerging contaminant, which basically means that insufficient information exists to determine what sort of regulations should be required in the use of GenX. According to Cahoon, this should be troubling to those who use products with GenX since it essentially means DuPont is performing a massive test of the substance using their human customers. The sad truth is that EPA guidelines consider chemicals that have been under-researched to be safe until proven otherwise.

During a case in which DuPont and Chemours were forced to defend the fact that the older C8 had caused numerous health issues in those exposed to it, Mike Papantonio, an attorney for the plaintiffs, negotiated a settlement of about $670 million. Papantonio now says that the case against GenX has a lot of similarities.

If you look closely at the lab tests conducted by DuPont on GenX, you can see that the new chemical actually causes the exact same issues in lab rats that were caused by the chemical meant to be replaced by GenX. Lab rats contracted numerous health issues when exposed to GenX over a two-year period, including various types of cancer, reproductive issues, and organ failure. Even with these results, DuPont claimed the new chemical was safe because there was no proof that humans and rats share the same cancer-forming mechanisms. If that were true, it makes one wonder why they bother testing on lab rats at all. Interestingly enough, DuPont gave the exact same answer when asked about C8 and the issues it caused in lab rats.

The Cape Fear River provides potable water for about 250,000 Americans, and GenX has been found in the water supply. According to the public utility authority of the region, the substance can not be removed from the water. You might imagine that after being forced to pay a settlement of $670 million to those who were affected by C8, DuPont would learn from their mistakes. That apparently isn’t the case.

With little actual repercussions to Chemours and DuPont, who together are worth nearly $50 billion, it is unlikely that the relatively small sum of hundreds of millions would do little to change their behavior at the corporate level. The fact that they have such freedom to operate as they do is a testament to the failure of the accountability laws and how they differ from corporations to an individual person.