A large chemical company will appear in court today, charged with inaction on toxic “forever chemicals”.
The American company Chemours has been named in a landmark case before the EU Court of Justice, following allegations that the chemicals giant has worked to prevent action against harmful chemicals.
Chemours, a spin-off from chemical company DuPont that includes popular brands like Teflon, will replace the now-banned chemical PFOA with so-called GenX chemicals.
PFOAs were banned worldwide in 2019 due to their persistence in the environment and their links to cancer and other diseases.
The chemicals were the subject of the 2019 film “Dark Waters” starring Mark Ruffalo, based on a real legal battle between DuPont and a town in West Virginia the company has poisoned with PFOA.
However, today’s case raises concerns that GenX may present many of the same issues.
Used for their non-stick properties in the manufacture of cooking utensils, paint and clothing, the chemicals that are part of a family named PFAS, are also known as C3 dimer acid or “chemicals forever” because they do not degrade in the environment.
Substances of “very high concern”
CHEM Trust, the European Chemicals Agency, the Government of the Netherlands and ClientEarth will appear in court to defend the list of GenX chemicals as substances of very high concern.
Inclusion in this list would mean that manufacturers have a duty to communicate information about these chemicals within their supply chain, but more importantly, it would serve as a signal for the market to invest in chemical and technological alternatives.
“Chemours replaces a known harmful chemical with equally worrying twins. This is an absurd and short-sighted substitution, ”says Alice Bernard, lawyer for ClientEarth.
Environmental agencies and others warn that GenX chemicals pose risks that include human health issues such as links to liver, kidney and blood toxicity, as well as repercussions for the climate.
The chemical, which can travel in water, was detected in Arctic sea water as well as drinking water and surface water through Europe.
“The EU is trying to stop irreversible contamination by putting GenX chemicals on its list of ‘substances of very high concern’,” says Bernard. “This decision is not only scientifically and legally based, it makes good sense.”
Potentially poison future generations
The persistence of these chemical types, along with their high level of mobility, means that toxic effects can persist for generations.
“If these chemicals continue to spread around the world, there will be no turning back,” adds Ninja Reineke, chief scientist of CHEM Trust.
In a declaration, Chemours said they had never seen a toxic or harmful effect in testing the wastewater from the plant.
“Over a decade of scientific data has been collected regarding the safety profile of C3 dimer acid [GenX]commented Dr. Damian Shea, a professor at North Carolina State University who compiled a toxicological analysis for the company.
“These data, including numerous toxicological studies, provide compelling scientific evidence that the low levels of C3 dimer acid detected in the environment do not pose a risk to human health.”
In the past, DuPont and Chemours have settled several lawsuits relating to exposure to chemicals. In 2017, companies have set up a personal injury claim of 3,550 million euros for an amount of 570 million euros relating to a PFOA leak from a plant in West Virginia.
The Court of Justice is expected to deliver its judgment on the GenX substances case in early 2022.