PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ cost society €16 trillion a year

The global cost to society of so-called ‘forever chemicals’ — technically known as PFAS — amount to €16 trillion per year, a report found on Thursday (25 May).

This includes healthcare costs related to PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) exposure as well as cleaning work for polluted soils and contaminated water. If the damage to ecosystems or the reduction of property prices were also considered in this estimate, the global costs of PFAS for society would be even higher.

Exposure to PFAS cost Europeans between €52bn and €84bn annually, according to the Nordic Council of Ministers .

But when adding up fees for water and soil remediation costs this figure could amount to an estimated cost of €2.4 trillion per year, according to the investigation by the environmental group ChemSec.

While these chemicals have been used in many consumer products for decades, they have only become subject to scrutiny in recent years for their impact on the environment and human health.

Earlier this year, The Forever Pollution Project, an investigation by 18 newsrooms, found that there are more than 17,000 sites contaminated by forever chemicals around Europe.

The EU is currently embroiled in a long legislative process that aims to ban all PFAS chemicals as a group — but the plan has faced opposition from lobby groups and industry players since it was proposed.

The report shows that the global market for PFAS was over $28bn [€26bn] in 2022.

Globally, the biggest companies in PFAS production include AGC, Chemours, Daikin, 3M, Dongyue, Archroma, Honeywell, German chemical giants Merck, Bayer and BASF, French Arkema and Belgian Solvay.

Some of these are also leading efforts in the EU to influence key regulatory developments in the EU.

“We can see that lobby sharks are circling around the proposal to restrict thousands of forever chemicals,” said Vicky Cann, campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory.

€33.5m to lobby the EU

Seven major chemical industry players have spent a total of €33.5m to lobby EU institutions in recent years, surpassing lobby expenditures of Big Tech or the energy giants, according to an investigation by Corporate Europe Observatory.

EU legislation targeted by lobbyists from the chemical sector includes the revision of the REACH regulation on chemicals, the regulation of the forever chemicals and the plans to cut pesticide use in the bloc.

Based on self-declared figures aggregated by LobbyFacts, the companies with the highest expenditures are Bayer, BASF, ExxonMobil and Dow Europe.

The EU chemical lobby CEFIC, its German equivalent Verband der Chemischen Industrie (VCI), and Plastics Europe are also listed as the highest spenders on EU lobbying.

Overall, the total EU lobbying expenditure of these seven big players during the last decade amounts to €293m. Their lobbying power had also given them access to 495 EU parliament passes and 249 meetings with high-ranking EU commission officials.

The chemicals industry is one of Europe’s largest manufacturing sectors. Exports of chemicals have grown by six percent a year since 2022, amounting to €553bn in 2022.

Eurostat figures show Germany (€142bn), Belgium (€81bn), Ireland (€71bn), France (€53bn), the Netherlands (€49bn) and Italy (€42bn) were the bigger exporters of chemicals from the EU in 2022.

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