The unspoken mantra of the Wilmington, Delaware-based chemical company, The Chemours Company, seems to be “don’t apologize, don’t explain.” The Fortune 500 company has recently been put under scrutiny due to the toxic chemical GenX, which has flowed from its plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina into the Cape Fear River: a river that provides drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people.
The health risks are not fully known, but North Carolina resident John Fisher, 77, ponders whether GenX or other chemicals in his well caused the cancerous death of his dog and his daughter’s dogs next door.
Fisher’s circumstance is worrisome in that not knowing whether GenX is to blame or not stumps any potential solution.
There are no environmental regulators in North Carolina that can enforce any legal regulations because GenX is in its infancy chemically as far as research goes. In other words, there is no regulation that requires Chemours to run any tests.
DuPont, Chemours’ predecessor, received similar allegations in regard to GenX. DuPont started using the toxic chemical to replace a different fluorinated compound after the community located near the Parkersburg, West Virginia plant claimed through more than 3,500 lawsuits that the compound was making them sick and had carcinogenic tendencies. DuPont split from Chemours after the corporation was found responsible for one resident’s testicular cancer.
In the end, the two companies agreed to settle and pay approximately $671 million to put the continual lawsuits to rest.
According to Geoffrey Basye, a public affairs consultant and former Federal Aviation Administration spokesman under President George W. Bush, Chemours’ silence is in direct relation to the stock market and their shareholders.
Since the start of 2017, the chemical company’s stock price has more than doubled, influencing its decision to be silent.
The CEO and the board of directors may not want to risk Chemours’ reputation by responding to the accusations publicly but, ironically, this has the opposite effect on shareholders.
Maurice Schweitzer, a Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania professor who teaches negotiation and corporate decision-making said that “studies have found an apology for medical mistakes can be enough to satisfy aggrieved patients, leading to fewer malpractice actions, greater willingness to settle lawsuits and lower demand for changes.”
Restrained chemical safety and investigative reports is not an uncommon scenario in this society. In 2014, Flint, Michigan underwent a water crisis while a new pipeline was being built to transport water from Lake Huron to Flint.
However, during the construction period, the city turned to Flint as a water source and, soon after, the community acknowledged that the water started “to look, smell, and taste funny.”
Tests conducted in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Tech concluded that there were dangerous amounts of lead in the water that was being distributed to residents’ homes. Consumption of lead can take a dire effect on a person’s health, especially children; there could be possible heart, kidney and irreversible nerve damage.
It is a recurring problem that companies or people in power are overlooking chemical cautionary reports, which in turn takes its toll on society.
“Financial futures” is not a worthy excuse to risk the health and livelihood of the local communities for.
However, environmental regulators are working toward establishing legislation that will hold these Fortune 500 companies accountable for their environmental risks.
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