Chemical manufacturer 3M has finally reached a $10.3 billion settlement over “forever chemicals” released into America’s drinking water for decades. 

But despite the Cape Fear River Basin being a high-profile example of contamination from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, it is not included in the settlement due to ongoing litigation with the North Carolina Attorney General, the local water authority, and residents.

The settlement announced last week resolves a case about Stuart, Florida, which was scheduled for trial this month. Stuart is among approximately 300 communities that have filed similar lawsuits against PFAS manufacturers. The funds will be provided over a span of 13 years to support public water authorities in conducting PFAS testing and cleaning up contaminated water supplies.

Separately, Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva collectively agreed earlier this month to pay nearly $1.19 billion to address claims of polluting drinking water with PFAS chemicals.

PFAS, which is really a family of man-made chemicals, are often called “forever chemicals” due to their resistance to natural degradation. They have been linked to various health issues, including liver and immune system damage, as well as certain types of cancer. 3M previously announced that it would cease production of the chemicals by 2025.

In the wake of the settlement, advocates emphasized the need to hold polluting industries accountable and halt use of the chemicals across companies.  

“Until we stop using PFAS everywhere, these toxic chemicals will continue polluting our drinking water and harming our families,” said Environment America’s Clean Water Program Director John Rumpler in a statement. “Both federal and state officials must act now to stop the flow of ‘forever chemicals’ into our environment.” 

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever drinking water standard for some types of PFAS. This regulation aims to monitor PFAS levels in drinking water and inform the public if those levels exceed established safety limits.

The legal battle over PFAS in our region started in 2017 when the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority filed a lawsuit against Chemours and Dupont in federal district court following the discovery of GenX and other PFAS compounds in the Cape Fear River. The source was determined to be the Chemours plant located on the Bladen-Cumberland county line, approximately 100 miles upriver from Wilmington. (Chemours was then a subsidiary of Dupont, which has since spun it off.)

The lawsuit argues water authority ratepayers have incurred millions of dollars in costs to mitigate the impacts, including $43 million for eight new granular activated carbon filters at its Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. The plant supplies drinking water to around 80 percent of the utility’s customers. 

Cape Fear residents also filed a class-action lawsuit in 2018 against DuPont and Chemours seeking compensation for physical injuries, property damage, reduced property values, and the costs of filtering contaminated water and air across five counties. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein followed both suits in 2020 with his own against Chemours, alleging the company had known for decades it was polluting the Cape Fear.

While Cape Fear residents will not benefit from recent settlements, lawyers involved in the class action lawsuit said it is a useful development in that it supports the evidence that PFAS pollution is harmful and toxic, and those exposed to it deserve compensation.

“I think that the biggest result is the acknowledgement of the companies that have perpetrated these contaminations and caused people’s properties and health to be put at risk,” Ted Leopold, a senior partner at the law firm Cohen Milstein that is representing local residents, told WHQR. “It’s an acknowledgment that, you know, these are serious chemicals that can cause harm both to property and to individuals. And, you know, they’re certainly paying a lot of money towards fixing the problem.”

New Hanover County Commissioner and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board Member Jonathan Barfield told WWAY earlier this month that the region is taking the longview, to ensure they get compensation not just to cover what they’ve already invested in, but future needs.

“You can take the short-term win and get that quick settlement, but that may not be enough to get your long-term needs,” said Barfield. “I think that’s the mindset the authority has right now.”

 — Kevin Maurer

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Watson College of Education Dean Van Dempsey, Sen. Michael Lee, and Chancellor Aswani Volety at the 2023 Razor Walker Awards. (Nate Mauldin/The Seahawk)

Earlier this month, we reported that Van Dempsey, the Dean of the Watson College of Education at University of North Carolina Wilmington, was taking public issue with the university’s decision to give an education award to a prominent local conservative.

Dempsey said UNCW’s chancellor had given him a directive to do so – and he put both the school leadership and a member of the Board of Governors on blast. 

Dempsey was removed as dean Monday.

“Dr. Van Dempsey is leaving his position as dean, effective July 14,” said a statement from UNCW. 

Dempsey takes issue with the wording: “It implies that I chose to leave the position,” Dempsey tells The Assembly. Reporter Kevin Maurer has the latest.

UNC Wilmington Dissident Dean is Out

The dean of UNC Wilmington’s school of education was removed weeks after telling The Assembly that his chancellor had directed him to ensure a conservative got an award this year.

Around the Region

 A few of the stories we’re following this week:

WHQR – New Hanover County School Board Will Now Decide ‘Stamped’ Book Challenge

The future of the book Stamped: Antiracism, Racism, and You in New Hanover County Schools is now in the hands of the county board of education. The controversy started last December when Katie Gates, the parent of an Ashley High School AP Language and Composition student, filed a complaint with a school committee alleging the book “contains Marxist ideology, inaccurate reframing of history, untruths, and disrespect for our nation and the Bible.” Gates is now requesting that the school board conduct a public hearing to determine whether the book should be taught.

Rolling Stone Grady Kurpasi Went to Ukraine to Fight. Then He Disappeared

The story of a 50-year-old former Marine from Wilmington who gave up everything when Russia invaded Ukraine to go over and fight. His family didn’t learn what really happened to him for a year.

WECT – NC Considering Sweeping Changes To Alcohol Laws

North Carolina House lawmakers reviewed Senate Bill 527 on Tuesday morning, which would overhaul state alcohol policies. Under the proposal, counties and municipalities could decide for themselves whether to OK ABC stores staying open on Sundays, happy hours, and alcohol delivery from bars and restaurants.

A Southern Food Empire

Tupelo Honey Cafe started as an Asheville icon and has rapidly become an emissary for Southern food across the country.

Queen of the Port City

Pride may have felt different this year, but Wilmington drag legend Tara Nicole Brooks says she’s not ready to hang up her heels.

He Sought A New Life Outside A War Zone. Bullets Still Found Him.

Ainzargul Totakhil fled Afghanistan, but died while driving for Uber in Durham. Now his family is picking up the pieces.

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