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ClientEarth Communications

9th November 2023


Harmful family of 'forever chemicals' confirmed to be of very high concern

Chemicals company Chemours has been challenging the European chemicals watchdog over its decision to include a group of harmful chemicals on the EU’s list of substances of ‘very high concern’.

‘GenX’ chemicals are part of the family known as PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals’ due to their extreme persistence in the environment. They contaminate water and can quickly travel long distances, having even been found in Arctic seawater, and are known to cause a range of major health problems.

A few years back, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) added GenX chemicals to the EU list of ‘substances of very high concern’ – a decision our lawyers said was common-sense and grounded in science.

Chemours – a spin-off of DuPont, known for the Teflon scandal portrayed in Mark Ruffalo’s Dark Waters film –appealed that decision.

What happened at the ruling?

In 2019, we intervened to support ECHA in Chemours’ case against them, alongside our partner CHEM Trust. The judge upheld the agency’s decision to include GenX chemicals on the list of substances of very high concern. But Chemours challenged that decision.

Today, the court has dismissed that appeal, meaning that GenX chemicals will remain designated as substances of very high concern in a win for health and environment across Europe.

A universal PFAS restriction is already underway - meaning that GenX chemicals are likely to soon be banned. However, today’s decision to keep them on the list places new obligations on chemical companies and signals that the market should already start using alternatives.

Why are GenX chemicals so harmful?

GenX chemicals were introduced by DuPont in 2009 as a substitute for the now banned chemical PFOA, used in the production of Teflon and other products. 

PFOA was infamously the subject of a US legal battle after DuPont dumped the chemical in landfill in West Virginia. The waste is thought to have contaminated miles of land, killed cattle and caused locals to fall sick with cancer. 

GenX chemicals have been linked to all sorts of harmful effects for humans and wildlife, with growing evidence showing they can induce tumours in rats, and are linked to toxicity in the liver, blood, kidneys and immune system. 

They are so persistent in the environment that they can cause extreme damage for extended periods of time and are near impossible to remove.  

What’s next?

In reaction to the decision, ClientEarth lawyer Hélène Duguy said:

“Today’s ruling will ensure that GenX chemicals remains labelled as substances of very high concern in the EU. Chemours has again failed to show that the court made any mistakes in upholding the decision from the experts at the European Chemicals Agency.

“Campaigners across Europe are working tirelessly to tackle chemical pollution and this ruling further helps their cause. As mounting evidence continues to show that forever chemicals are harmful, what more do we need to introduce a blanket ban on all PFAS?”

Dr Ninja Reineke, Head of Science at CHEM Trust said: 

“Labelling them of very high concern is only the first step, we urgently need a ban on all PFAS chemicals to prevent contamination of the environment and future generations.”