Environmental groups get green light to join Chemours fight over PFAS advisories

Signage is seen at the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C.
Signage is seen at the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Chemours suit claims EPA guidance oversteps agency's authority
  • Groups say advisories are powerful tools to push for local regulations

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Monday let North Carolina health and environmental groups join a fight between the Biden administration and Chemours Co, which claims the government overstepped its authority when issuing drinking water advisories for toxic “forever chemicals.”

Chemours sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year after it issued warnings indicating some toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, pose health risks in drinking water even at levels so low they are not detectable.

The EPA says its drinking water health advisories are unenforceable scientific and technical guidance for municipal water systems, but Chemours claimed they nevertheless affected the company’s legal rights and obligations.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its order that the interests of the groups seeking to intervene in the case, including Cape Fear River Watch, the North Carolina Black Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council, may not be adequately represented by the EPA in the suit. The groups had claimed that they see the advisories as powerful tools to push for stricter water standards at the state and local level, which is beyond the EPA’s limited guidance authority.

Chemours didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The EPA and a representative for the groups declined to comment.

PFAS have been used for decades in firefighting foam, industrial products and household products such as non-stick cookware.

Scientists have linked some PFAS to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

The chemical industry has said the substances don't pose uniform potential risks to health, and are important for diverse industries in the economy including fuel cell development.

The Biden administration has identified the substances as key targets for regulatory action, and has said it plans on releasing enforceable water quality standards this winter.

The case is The Chemours Company FC LLC v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-2287.

For Chemours: Allon Kedem of Arnold Porter

For the EPA: Kimere Kimball and Andrew Knudsen of the U.S. Department of Justice

For the intervenors: Simi Bhat and Sarah Tallman of the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Robert Sussman of Sussman & Associates

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