America’s largest denim manufacturing facility and supplier to well-known jeans brands will stop using PFAS after a lawsuit over its wastewater emissions.
Mount Vernon Mills announced last week that its Trion, Georgia, plant will stop using per- and polyfluoroalkyls, also called “forever chemicals,” to make water- and stain-resistant products by December 31. The move is part of an agreement with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI). On May 8, they sued the factory, which claims it is the largest denim producer on US shores, and the city of Trion under the Clean Water Act, citing damage to the Chattooga River in Georgia and Weiss Lake in Alabama , which are connected by the Coosa River. and local residents.
The lawsuit alleged that the plant discharges approximately 3.2 million gallons of PFAS- and chemical-contaminated wastewater daily into the Trion Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was unable to remove the chemicals from the water “due to their persistence in the environment.” In turn, the plant’s contaminated effluents have “contaminated the Chattooga River watershed with PFAS in recent years.” Last year, SELC notified the plant and its hometown that it planned to file a lawsuit.
Last week, Mount Vernon Mills, CRBI and the City of Trion agreed to settle the lawsuit. Under the terms, the plant must eliminate PFAS from its operations in Trion. “This agreement serves as a model for how Georgia’s textile industry can work with communities to ensure safer water for all,” SELC lead counsel Chris Bowers said in a statement. “Industrial polluters are legally required to control PFAS pollution rather than putting the burden on downstream communities.”
“Trion’s wastewater treatment plant should have required the textile mill to upgrade their treatment technology to remove PFAS before they are discharged into Trion’s public treatment plants,” Bowers continued. “The proposed Consent Decree requiring Mount Vernon to cease the use of PFAS at this facility will result in long overdue restrictions on these harmful chemical releases.”
Mount Vernon Mills said the elimination of PFAS settles the dispute while meeting modern consumer expectations. The company now strives to develop or introduce effective, environmentally friendly performance solutions.
“Trends surrounding PFAS usage have evolved and Mount Vernon is committed to aligning with regulations, working with regulators and being aware of what is best for our employees and our surrounding communities,” said CEO Bill Duncan in a statement. “For example, after realizing a few years ago that long-chain PFAS were a problem, Mount Vernon worked quickly to transition from that chemistry to the short-chain formulas that were then, and until recently, considered environmentally friendly. I would like to note that this change is taking place before there is any standard regarding Mount Vernon’s use of these chemicals.”
Duncan declined to respond to further questions about denim production at the Trion plant, which recently upgraded finishing equipment and started a loom replacement program. According to Mount Vernon Mills’ website, the mill produces moisture-wicking, oil-resistant denim from US-grown cotton. Serving brands like American Giant, Wrangler and Carhartt, the Trion facility has been producing 800,000 yards of denim fabric every week since 2018.
According to CRBI Managing Director Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, “Ending the use of PFAS in textile production at this facility is an important step in finally dealing with the ongoing contamination in our region.” The agreement shows “there are alternatives to using them at all Chemicals in production,” he added.
Jean Zhuang, lead counsel for the SELC, said it’s only a matter of time before state or federal laws force companies to address their role in the PFAS problem. “[The Environmental Protection Agency] made it clear that our states have the power and duty to properly control industrial PFAS sources like Mount Vernon’s,” she said.
Zhuang continued: “[w]Under pressure, the industries that use and manufacture these chemicals can either treat them or find alternatives so we are not exposed to avoidable toxic pollution. This Consent Decree demonstrates that communities do not have to live with PFAS in their drinking water, rivers and lakes.”
In February, the EPA announced that President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Act would allocate $2 billion in funding to address “emerging pollutants” like PFAS in the nation’s drinking water. In April, it issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), prompting public opinion on the potential designation of PFAS under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The California law banning PFAS in clothing, footwear and cookware will go into effect in 2025.
The Chattooga River in Georgia.
Beach Hut Photography/Getty Images
The industry is developing new technologies to replace PFAS, from Impermea Materials’ Hydro-Tex 1000, a non-toxic, water-based technology that creates a breathable, water-repellent coating on fabrics, to Green Theme Technologies’ Empel, which improves outdoor performance Artilect brand is used. Many textile manufacturers and retailers alike are working to stay ahead of regulatory action by eliminating toxic chemicals and adopting other solutions after mounting controls have been imposed in recent years.
In November, Michigan state environmental officials charged Merrell-owner Wolverine Worldwide with delaying implementation of a system to remove PFAS-contaminated groundwater from an area where the leather tannery was once located. The move comes after the EPA previously ordered the company to clean up around the tannery. Though the facility closed in 2011, the settlement required Wolverine to mitigate the long-term human and environmental health impacts of years of dumping chemical-laden waste. Wolverine and its chemical partner 3M separately paid $54 million in voluntary compensation to local property owners who filed a class action lawsuit claiming they had been harmed by the contamination.