Media reaction: 23 February 2022

Chemicals company suffers blow in EU Court on forever chemicals – NGOs reaction

The European Court of Justice has today confirmed that a group of new generation ‘forever chemicals’ used in the manufacture of non-stick products are rightly labelled in the EU as being of very high concern – overruling the chemicals company Chemours.

Chemours [1] had taken the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to court over the inclusion of GenX chemicals in the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) list [2] under REACH – the main EU law used to stop chemical pollution.

The NGOs ClientEarth and CHEM Trust intervened to support ECHA and the Government of the Netherlands in this case.

GenX chemicals [3] are used for their non-stick properties to manufacture cookware, paint, apparel and more. They are part of a larger family of chemicals known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment for decades.

ClientEarth’s in-house lawyer Alice Bernard said: “Common sense prevailed in court today. The judges concluded that Chemours failed to show that ECHA committed any legal or scientific errors in flagging these chemicals as substances of very high concern.

“Chemours have acted as though its experts do not understand the gravity of the situation, instead spending resources challenging much-needed EU decisions that they should have seen coming.”

Ninja Reineke, Head of Science at CHEM Trust, said: “GenX chemicals, like all PFAS, are incredibly persistent – which means they hardly degrade in the environment. Labelling them as being of very high concern is the bare minimum and a ban should be the next logical step.”

Chemours now have two months and ten days to appeal – if they decide to do so.


Notes to editors:

[1] Chemours is a chemicals corporation which is embroiled in various controversies. It was originally founded in 2015 as a spinoff of DuPont and contains DuPont's legacy chemicals businesses, including TeflonTM. 

DuPont and Chemours have had to settle several lawsuits related to chemical exposure, including in 2017 when the two companies agreed to pay $671 million to settle 3,550 personal injury claims arising from a PFOA leak from a plant in West Virginia.

This led to a lawsuit between the two companies. In a complaint filed in 2019 against DuPont, Chemours contended that DuPont massively downplayed the cost of environmental liabilities imposed on Chemours when the spinoff happened in 2015.

On top of that, there have been several news reports highlighting Chemours’ dubious practices. A recent New York Times investigation said that “they have engineered complex corporate transactions to shield themselves from legal liability. And they have rolled out a conveyor belt of scantly tested substitute chemicals that sometimes turn out to be just as dangerous as their predecessors.”

[2] The list means manufacturers have a duty to communicate information on the substance’s concerning properties in their supply chain but it is also a signal to the market to invest in alternatives (alternative chemicals or alternative technologies).

[3] The GenX technology was introduced by DuPont in 2009 as a replacement for another “forever chemical” called PFOA.

PFOA was banned globally in 2019 after decades of delay, despite compelling evidence to support a ban having been in the public domain for years. The impact of PFOA contamination on a community in the US was featured in the recent Hollywood film ´Dark Waters´, telling the real life story of how lawyer Rob Bilott took on the chemical company DuPont after discovering the pollution of drinking water with PFOA.

GenX chemicals were originally presented as a ‘safer’ alternative to PFOA. But, created to mimic PFOA’s properties, they have been found to be similarly problematic. There are concerns with GenX chemicals regarding toxicity, in particular for the liver, the kidneys, the blood, and the immune system, as summarised in the evidence given to support the SVHC identification. Other concerns include the capability of GenX to cross the placenta and reduce foetus weight. The potential of GenX chemicals to cause cancer is also currently under further investigation.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

About CHEM Trust

CHEM Trust CHEM Trust is a collaboration between CHEM Trust, a UK registered Charity and CHEM Trust Europe eV, which is a charity based in Germany. Both legal entities work closely together on projects under the name CHEM Trust. Our overarching aim is to prevent synthetic chemicals from causing long term damage to wildlife or humans, by ensuring that chemicals which cause such harm are substituted with safer alternatives.