Lawyers have filed a new class action lawsuit against DuPont and Chemours claiming that the two firms contaminated the Cape Fear River in North Carolina with fluorosurfactants. The river is a source of drinking water for much of the southeast part of the state.
The filing, made late last month, consolidates and updates three class action suits filed since October by lawyers representing thousands of people who claim they are ill or could get ill because they drank water from the Cape Fear River and from wells surrounding the plant, now run by DuPont spin-off Chemours. A judge in the U.S. Federal District Court in Wilmington, N.C., ordered the consolidation in early January to streamline the effort to try claims.
The consolidated suit charges that DuPont dumped potentially toxic fluorosurfactants from the Fayetteville, N.C., plant starting in the 1980s. It also claims that DuPont knew that some of those fluorosurfactants, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), had toxic effects on laboratory animals as far back as the 1960s.
DuPont acknowledges that the lawsuits and ongoing federal and state investigations “could result in penalties or sanctions,” according to documents it has filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). Chemours says in its SEC filings that it believes discharges from the Fayetteville site “have not impacted the safety of drinking water in North Carolina.”
In February 2017, the two firms agreed to pay $670 million to settle 3,550 lawsuits in Ohio and West Virginia by residents who say they were sickened by drinking water that was contaminated with PFOA released from what is now Chemours’ Parkersburg, W.Va., site.
Chemours recently began capturing all of its fluorochemical production wastewater at Fayetteville and sending it to Texas for disposal in a deep injection well. But the suit charges that the chemicals in the river and wells persist and have caused complications including colon cancer, stomach cancer, and ulcerative colitis.
The suit seeks funding for an epidemiological study to gauge the impact of PFOA, other polyfluoroalkyl substances, and GenX—which Chemours considers a safer alternative to PFOA—on residents along the Cape Fear River. It also seeks undetermined compensatory and punitive damages for illness, reduced property value, and the cost of water filtration.
“We will make these companies take responsibility for what they have put in the local air and water, for ensuring that the air and water are safe going forward, and for addressing the serious harms their actions have caused,” says Steve Morrissey, plaintiff counsel at the law firm Susman Godfrey.
In an unusual twist, the suit picks up on new reports that the plant has emitted GenX into the air. At least one of the wells containing traces of GenX is uphill from the Fayetteville plant, plaintiff attorneys say. According to local reports, the state has expanded its testing program of wells outside the plant to a radius of 4 km from an earlier 1.5 km.