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Dubious distinction: Newsweek names Chemours one of the most ‘responsible’ companies in nation

Dubious Distinction
Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 2:42 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s not every day that a company responsible for polluting a major river and drinking water source for thousands gets an award for environmental responsibility, but that is exactly the award Newsweek has bestowed on the DuPont spinoff company Chemours.

“This is the second time Chemours has received Newsweek’s prestigious award and marks the company’s second recent environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) recognition following Chemours’ inclusion on Investor’s Business Daily’s list of 100 Best ESG Companies of 2021,” according to a Chemours press release.

The designation raised eyebrows in Southeastern North Carolina with the City of Wilmington replying to a Tweet simply saying, ‘This you?’ followed by a screenshot of an article highlighting the culpability of Chemours for releasing GenX, a so-called ‘forever chemical’ into the Cape Fear River.

For years, Chemours has been involved in legal battles from the State of North Carolina, as well as local groups in Southeastern North Carolina for releasing GenX into the river. As recently as November of this year, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality determined Chemours is responsible for contaminating groundwater sources in Southeastern N.C.

In 2019, the company entered into a consent order following legal action taken by the state.

The Newsweek award was presented in partnership with Statista, a company that describes itself as, “... a leading provider of market and consumer data.”

Kemp Burdette is the Cape Fear River Keeper for Cape Fear River Watch --- he says there’s no reason for a company like Chemours to be considered one of the most responsible companies around.

Part of his reasoning comes down to the rules to even be considered as a recipient of the award. According to Newsweek and Statista -- the other company involved in awarding the titles -- you cant be involved in any lawsuits or have any “scandals.”

“The list of just really horrible things that this company has done to people, us, downstream is very long. It’s just outrageous that they would be on any list of a good corporate citizen by any measure,” he said.

According to the methodology for the rankings, there are three aspects that are looked at when issuing these awards, including: environmental, social, and governance. After selecting candidates from the top 2,000 public companies by revenue, there are several pre-screenings that can nullify a company from receiving an award -- one of which being: “The company is not involved in major lawsuits, scandals etc.”

“There are still numerous lawsuits, it’s not just our lawsuit against the company there are numerous lawsuits against this company,” he said.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is also speaking out against the designation. Kenneth Waldroup, Executive Director of CFPUA, penned a letter to Newsweek’s Global Editor in Chief listing a number of issues Chemours has faced since the revelation of GenX in the Cape Fear River.

Those points are as follows:

  • “The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) began a series of regulatory actions, including assessing the largest fine in North Carolina history against Chemours for its years of unpermitted pollution. DEQ’s enforcement action against Chemours is ongoing, including a fine of more than $300,000 issued this year for violations.
  • “Despite these regulatory efforts and the mitigation and remediation DEQ has forced Chemours to undertake, the company’s PFAS continues to pollute the Cape Fear River, our source of drinking water, and the groundwater of several North Carolina Counties.”
  • “Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Chemours regarding its PFAS pollution. My own organization, CFPUA, has sued Chemours on behalf of our customers, who the company has left to pay tens of millions of dollars to address its PFAS contamination. The State of North Carolina also has sued Chemours to hold Chemours “accountable for the damage their manufacture, use, and disposal of PFAS chemicals have caused to North Carolina’s natural resources.”
  • Chemours’ actions have been chronicled in numerous news articles. The New York Times published an article on October 20, 2021, headlined “How Chemical Companies Avoid Paying for Pollution” and whose subtitle speaks of “great lengths to dodge responsibility.”

Waldroup didn’t stop at pointing out the numerous concerns CFPUA and others have with Chemours and this newest designation -- he is asking for action.

“As such, I urge you to remove Chemours from your 2022 list and any future listing until it steps forward to live its stated corporate values by doing what is right for customers, colleagues, and communities ‘always.’ This simple action will significantly increase the legitimacy of this and future ‘Most Responsible Companies’ lists and increase the value to companies chosen for this important designation,” he said.

Evan Tobias, Director of Licensing at Statista, the other company involved in the awards, did respond following a request for comment on how the history of Chemours polluting the Cape Fear River did not nullify it from being a recipient of the award.

“Our research and analysis team will look closely at this situation and we take it seriously. Given your short turnaround request, I can’t offer you a more thorough statement until our team has time to investigate,” he said. “We hold the rights to keep or take off companies from the list as information is gathered and we will be sure to let you know our final determination. "

WECT reached out to Chemours for a statement on the award and was provided a quote from Sheryl Telford, Chief Sustainability Officer for Chemours.

“Being recognized as one of America’s Most Responsible Companies is an achievement for every Chemours employee who has put in the time and energy to embed sustainability into every aspect of what we do. Responsibility, sustainability, and integrity aren’t just words at Chemours; they are deeply ingrained in our culture, who we are, and how we work. I am proud of our team for rising to the challenge and demonstrating what a different kind of chemistry company can accomplish,” she said.

You can read CFPUA’s entire statement below.

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