December 04, 2018

A Tuesday meeting brought residents up to date on scientific and legal efforts

A local scientist warned Tuesday that the Wilmington region is just beginning to grasp the threat posed by GenX and similar chemicals.

“This is one of those onion-type mysteries where you peel back one layer and you find more, and you keep peeling and you find more,” said Larry Cahoon, a University of North Carolina Wilmington biologist, warning that while the region’s concern about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may have started with GenX, scientists have discovered several additional compounds they understand even less.

Both Cahoon and Ted Leopold, the lead attorney of a class action suit against Chemours, told an audience of about 100 people at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station that even now, nearly a year-and-a-half after the public first learned its drinking water was contaminated, the process of understanding and fixing the problems are still in their early days.

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The law

Ted Leopold, a partner with law firm Cohen Millstein, also spoke at Tuesday’s event. Leopold is the lead attorney in a class action lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont alleging Chemours and predecessor DuPont acted negligently and harmed property values, demanding the companies conduct remediation efforts at any contaminated properties and fund diagnostic testing for the early detection of illnesses potentially caused by the chemicals.

“The big moving part is the science. That’s the key issue in these cases,” Leopold said, “but the issue is corporate responsibility.”

Earlier this year, contractors working on behalf of Cohen Millstein visited Chemours’ Fayetteville Works plant to take water samples that were later tested for the presence of various chemicals. Those results, Leopold said, have been sealed at the request of Chemours and predecessor company DuPont.

“Each and every one of you in the community are entitled to know what’s in those results,” Leopold said.

Additionally, Leopold questioned the draft consent order agreed to between Chemours, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch on Thanksgiving Eve. The agreement, Leopold said, forces Chemours to provide protections for people around the plant while leaving customers of downstream utilities unprotected.

This week, Leopold plans to file what he called a “substantive report” describing in detail what the legal team believes should be fixed in the order and requesting the public comment period be extended by an additional 30 days. The order will not be final until approved by Bladen County Superior Court Judge Doug Sasser.

“There’s a lot of information, with our consultants and our experts, that we want to let DEQ understand and appreciate and know about before a state judge signs off on that consent decree,” Leopold said, adding, “This is a very good start, but it’s a start.”

The complete article can be accessed at the Wilmington Star-News.