‘Forever chemicals’, known chemically as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, are not just persistent and hazardous to life, they are also all-pervasive. From our food, water, soil, rain to the paper straws we use and the blood of our children, PFAS are everywhere. The negative, diverse and insidious effects of PFAS on health are the subject of very active research, all of it contributing to an ever more disturbing picture of their likely long-term effects on our health. They have been found to impact multiple systems, including our immune, cardiovascular and reproductive systems, and have been designated as possibly carcinogenic by the US National Cancer Institute. The costs of PFAS to society are estimated at around €16 trillion per year and many of the PFAS producers would go bankrupt if they were asked to pay for the pollution and societal effects they cause.
The European Chemicals Agency is alive to the detrimental consequences of PFAS to our health and has proposed dramatic restriction of their use by 2026 within the European Union. Many organizations have joined international efforts to ban PFAS chemicals.
A non-profit representing the interests of the chemical industry, the International Chemical Secretariat – ChemSec for short – is pushing industry to substitute safer chemicals for hazardous ones given serious concerns over chemical pollution that threatens both human health and ecosystems. Among its current priorities is its ‘No to PFAS’ campaign. As you might expect, this is no push over; there is a lot of pressure (and a lot of money) coming from the chemical industry that is making it difficult for the EU to introduce a complete ban on these chemicals.
ChemSec has helpfully identified that the vast majority of the world’s production of PFAS is limited to just 12 companies. Given the risks that these chemicals pose, we feel The Art of War principle commonly attributed to Sun Tzu, namely ‘know your enemy’, is highly fitting.
We’ve investigated these companies and despite their often laudable, stated missions to save planet or people, they have often been found to be both unethical and super polluters. Not only that, their business models are recurrently and intractably linked with ‘green’ and ‘digital’ economies that we’re told repeatedly by governments, the Big Corporate sector, and supranational bodies like the United Nations, are our only options for a sustainable future.
Interestingly, one of the biggest historic players in the PFAS manufacturing world, Dupont, makers of Teflon® and other PFAS, doesn’t make it on ChemSec’s list of 12. This is despite it having been found to be a major polluter of South Carolina drinking water supplies, the story of DuPont’s negligence having been exposed in the film Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo. The company has likely seen the writing on the wall and given its commitment to phasing out long-chain PFAS, the most persistent type of PFAS, going forwards.