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.”

Media Coverage

Chemours and DuPont knew about risks but kept making toxic PFAS chemicals, UN human rights advisors conclude, Inside Climate News, 2/26/24

UN calls out Chemours, partner companies for human rights violations associated with PFAS, Port City Daily, 11/25/23

U.N.-appointed human rights experts express concerns about Chemours’ ‘blatant disregard for human rights and environmental protections’, 11/24/23, WECT News 6

UN probes DuPont, Chemours over human rights harms from PFAS, Bloomberg Law, 11/23/23

UN asked to investigate ‘human rights violations’ by Chemours, Chemistry World, 5/9/23

Activists call on UN to declare PFAS pollution a human rights violation, One Green Planet, 5/4/23

North Carolina residents urge UN to investigate toxic PFAS pollution, The Guardian, 4/28/23

Environmentalists file first-time UN petition to investigate PFAS pollution, Inside EPA, 4/28/23

North Carolina group asks UN to probe chemical company’s PFAS pollution, Common Dreams, 4/28/23

Chemours accused of human rights violation at chemical plant, Bloomberg Law, 4/27/23

Is PFAS pollution a human rights violation? These activists say yes. Grist, 4/27/23

Advocacy team urges UN to take action against PFAS pollution, citing human rights violation, Port City Daily, 4/27/23

Clean Cape Fear files PFAS-related complaint with UN, Coastal Review, 4/27/23

North Carolina group files human rights violations complaint with United Nations re contaminated drinking water, The Jamestowner, 4/27/23


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

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