State Polluter-Pays Bills Aim to Make Companies Cover PFAS Harms


Emily Donovan calls fighting chemical pollution her “passion project,” an issue that crept onto her radar through a youth program she directs at her North Carolina church.

“It just struck me odd that half of the students in the program were praying for a parent or family member with a really serious and severe medical problem,” Donovan said. “I don’t remember that growing up.”

In 2017, local news reported that GenX—a chemical that the Chemours Co. used in manufacturing—was flowing from Fayetteville down through North Carolina’s Cape Fear River, polluting it and local drinking water. GenX is one of more than 9,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a chemical class linked to human health issues like higher risk of cancer.

Donovan co-founded Clean Cape Fear, a group among advocates pushing for a polluter-pays bill to make companies cover cleanup, monitoring, and filtration costs and limit contamination upstream.

But that bill and similar measures in other states aren’t advancing. Industry groups have pushed back, arguing that polluter-pay bills would bring over-regulation and economic costs.

Advocates for these kinds of bills say their success in Vermont could be a model for other states. A new law signed by the governor in April in the Green Mountain State includes a liability test and gives residents the right to sue chemical companies for medical monitoring costs if they claim they’ve been exposed to PFAS or other chemicals.

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