Viewers push back against new ad campaign from Chemours

CFPUA calls commercial’s message disingenuous, says Chemours not living up to “good neighbor” claim
WECT investigates claims made by Chemours
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 3:48 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s a 30-second commercial that’s generated a lot of pushback from our viewing audience. An advertisement for Chemours recently started airing on WECT. That’s the company blamed for releasing toxic chemicals into the Cape Fear River that have tainted the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people downstream.

The commercial shows smiling people with uplifting music in the background, and starts by saying, “Good neighbors care. At Chemours, we care. North Carolina is our home. Our quality of life and our environment must be protected. That’s why we invested in new technologies that reduced pollutants by over 95%. Our goal: a 99% reduction by 2030.”

The advertisement cites articles from the Bladen Journal and the Fayetteville Observer to back up those claims. What seems to be aggravating so many people watching the commercial is that Chemours did these things after being required to reduce their chemical emissions under the terms of a consent order with the NC Department of Environmental Quality in 2019. By that point, the company had already been polluting the drinking water supply for decades.

Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, has been releasing GenX into the Cape Fear River from its Fayetteville Works plant located along the Cumberland and Bladen County line. GenX is a synthetic chemical used to make firefighting foams, coating for clothes and furniture, as well as non-stick surfaces for pots and pans. It’s a type of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which are considered “forever chemicals” because of their tendency not to break down in the environment or the human body.

GenX was not very well understood when Mark Strynar’s team with US EPA first discovered it in the Cape Fear River in 2015. The following year, NC State scientists found GenX in the drinking water for residents who use the Cape Fear for their raw drinking water supply. The public became aware when the Wilmington Star News published these findings in 2017.

But a recent report by the EPA indicates the chemical could be even more toxic than previously thought. Animal studies following oral exposure to GenX have shown negative health effects to the liver, kidneys, the immune system, development of offspring, and an association with cancer. The potentially dire health impacts are a big reason people are upset with the ad campaign.

“Chemours has unapologetically poisoned the Cape Fear water supply for years. Please stop the gaslighting Chemours TV ads. The money for those ads should be going into cleaning up our water. Show some respect for the community and stop those ads,” one viewer wrote the WECT Newsroom.

“I am enraged, disgusted, offended……you can add in every word similar to these…that I have to see Chemours ads touting their ‘wonderful company’ as I drink my bottled water,” another viewer said. “Seriously, these ads are truly offensive to all of us who must use bottled water, install our own [reverse osmosis] systems and patiently wait for our community RO to come online.”

Editor’s note: The WECT News department has no say in what airs during paid commercial time between newscast segments. Those decisions are made by the WECT Sales department.

WECT reached out to Chemours to get its response to pushback to the new public relations campaign. The company provided the following response:

“Chemours has done a significant amount of work to reduce emissions and complete remediation activity at our Fayetteville site in the past four years. These messages in our ad campaign are meant to keep the public informed about the work we are doing—exactly the type of information our communities around the plant and downstream—including your viewers—have asked us about. Our goal to reduce PFAS emissions by 99% is part of our Corporate Responsibility Commitment announced in 2018 to reduce fluorinated organic compound emissions from our manufacturing process. We know of no other company that has made a similar commitment,” the statement reads.

“Chemours has worked closely with our state regulatory agencies throughout these four years, including entering a Consent Order, and that work sets a high bar for our company and our manufacturing processes. In fact, we are currently designing and beginning construction for an in-ground barrier wall along the Cape Fear River next to our site; that wall is planned to be a mile long and six stories deep into the ground to help keep compounds from reaching the river. We are one of many contributors along the Cape Fear River system—the largest river system in the state. Chemours is doing our part to improve the river and we hope others will as well.”

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which treats and supplies the drinking water for most of New Hanover County, is currently in the process of upgrading to a water filtration system that can better remove GenX and other PFAs from the water piped out to customers. The upgrade, which is expected to be finished by June, comes with a price tag of $46 million.

CFPUA hopes Chemours will foot that bill, but that hasn’t happened yet. A lawsuit pressuring the company to do so is pending in federal court. CFPUA’s Executive Director Kenneth Waldroup said a commercial touting Chemours as a “good neighbor” under the present circumstances seemed disingenuous.

“Chemours has not done anything in our eyes to earn that title,” Waldroup said. “Good neighbors are considerate. They inspire trust. You really cannot use that title unless you’re ready to address the wrongs of the past that you have inflicted upon your neighbors. And we suggest Chemours, if they really want to change their corporate image and to be seen as a good neighbor, needs to step forward and address these issues.”

Waldroup added that while it may technically be true that Chemours has reduced its chemical emissions by 95%, that speaks mostly to how huge the chemical emissions were to begin with. Waldroup says the PFAs levels in the ground water and the river water continue to be too high. As recently as last month, CFPUA testing detected PFAs in the water supply at 265 parts per trillion. Waldroup said 78% of those PFAs had a chemical signature that traced back to the Chemours plant.

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