Complaint Filed with United Nations About PFAS Contamination of Drinking Water


Clean Cape Fear, a grassroots community action group in Wilmington, N.C., filed a lengthy communication on April 27, 2023 with the U.N. Human Rights Commission official tasked with investigating, reporting on, and making recommendations to governments and businesses to cure human rights violations related to toxic chemicals. The 36-page document, prepared in collaboration with Berkeley Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, alleges that DuPont and spin-off Chemours have for decades polluted the lower Cape Fear River basin, which provides drinking water for 500,000 residents in three North Carolina counties, and have contaminated groundwater with toxic PFAS chemicals for more than 6,000 private well owners in eight surrounding counties.

Photo of horse with unhealthy blood because of contaminated waterPeople, pets, and livestock are dying and sick with cancer and chronic health conditions from exposure to toxic PFAS chemicals. Polluter Chemours refuses to accept blame, to provide clean drinking water for most residents, to reimburse water utilities for filtration, or to fund human epidemiological health studies. 

Clean Cape Fear demands, among other remedies, that corporate polluters be held accountable for water treatment and clean-up costs for all impacted residents, and that North Carolina regulators deny Chemours the permit it currently seeks to expand production of PFAS chemicals at its Fayetteville Works facility. This is the first time that a U.S. group has put in a formal request to the United Nations to characterize a community’s pervasive PFAS contamination as a human rights violation under international law.

“We live in one of the richest nations in the world, yet our basic human rights are being violated,” says Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear. “We refuse to be a sacrifice zone. Residents here are sick and dying and we continue to lack equitable access to safe water in our region, or the necessary health studies to truly understand the impacts from our chronic PFAS exposures.” 

“The Cape Fear River toxic exposure crisis has its origins in weak U.S. chemical safety laws, the underenforcement of laws that do exist, and political leaders’ insufficient will to hold polluters to account,” says Claudia Polsky, director of the Environmental Law Clinic. “Clean Cape Fear’s detailed communication to the Special Rapporteur on Toxics provides a legal road map for restoring Cape Fear communities to health, and for preventing further PFAS harms in North Carolina and beyond.”


Cape Fear Courage, Center for Environmental Health, 1/26/23

How “forever chemicals” polluted America’s water, Vox, 8/4/20