Climate Corner: Permitting harm

Apr 20, 2024

Giulia Mannarino

PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1940s, mostly to make consumer goods waterproof/stain resistant or nonstick. These chemicals are very common in the environment all around the world. They are now recognized as “forever” chemicals because they are extremely persistent, lasting thousands of years. There are dozens of chemicals in the PFAS family including PFOS, PFOA (C8), PFHxS and GenX. For decades, DuPont was responsible for discharging C8 into the Ohio River and severely polluting local drinking water supplies. DuPont morphed into Chemours and GenX has replaced C-8. Regardless of these changes, this dangerous pollution continues, seemingly unabated. Despite their claims of being a good neighbor, Chemours continues to profit from passing the cost of pollution onto local communities.

Chemours has an extensive past history of permit violations. The company has been consistently out of compliance with environmental regulations. In a court document, filed April 25, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documented many permit discharge exceedances of up to 3117% into the Ohio River in West Virginia from 2018 to 2023. These discharges were violations of the Clean Water Act as well as their permit. Currently, Chemours is seeking another permit through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to discharge additional PFAS chemicals, including Gen-X, into the Ohio River. WVDEP would probably have routinely approved the Proposed Application for a WV National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Water Pollution Control Permit (No. WV0117986).

However, the individual WV/NPDES permit process includes the development and advertisement of a Draft Permit, as well as the opportunity for the public to comment and to request a public hearing.

Because the Ohio River is already overburdened with PFAS chemicals, surpassing the EPA’s 2022 Interim Health Advisories, a non-profit watchdog agency issued an action alert regarding this permit application and urged supporters to request a public hearing to try and stop this additional toxic pollution discharge. Consequently, a Public Hearing was held via Zoom on Monday, March 4, with over 60 attendees. With the exception of only one individual (a company plant?), all who commented or asked questions were against the issuance of this permit. Although WVDEP was respectful of everyone’s opinions, the public hearing appeared to be a mere formality. The concerns expressed regarding PFAS and their impacts on health risks do not seem to be reasons for the WVDEP to deny the permit application. Regardless of all of the public comments against this application and the concerns expressed about PFAS and impacts on health, this permit request will most likely be rubber stamped.

The EPA has identified Gen-X, and additional PFAS, as harmful to human health, even in small concentrations, linking exposure to cancer and other serious illnesses. Many health studies confirm that ingestion of PFAS can cause adverse health effects even at very low levels. These include; increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, weakened immune systems, hormonal disruptions, lowered fertility rates and developmental issues in infants, children and others. In fact, sixteen reports filed by DuPont and submitted to the EPA between April 2006 and January 2013 cite numerous health effects. Fortunately, the EPA has committed to action to address PFAS contamination and has developed a “Strategic Roadmap” regarding PFAS chemicals. On Dec. 14, 2023, EPA published its second annual progress report

Each state is tasked with similar efforts to develop an action strategy regarding research, restriction and remediation of PFAS to protect their communities. During the 2023 Legislative session, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed HB 3189 the PFAS Protection Act. It requires the WVDEP to identify and address PFAS sources in raw water by developing PFAS action plans, and improves reporting requirements related to PFAS for specific facilities. Most recently, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Health collaborated on the sampling and testing of water across the state for the presence of PFAS and other variations of the chemical, including PFOS, GenX, PFBS, PFHxs and PFNA. The results were issued January 2024 and are available online. For both states, these are definitely steps in the right direction. But it’s still a long and winding road ahead before any day on our planet can truly be celebrated as Earth Day.


Giulia Mannarino of Belleville, is a grandmother concerned about her two granddaughters’ futures and a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.