11th Dec 2023

EU top court rejects industry appeal over 'forever chemicals'

  • In the EU, the health-related costs from PFAS chemicals are estimated at €52bn and €84bn annually (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.)
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The European Court of Justice on Thursday (9 November) dismissed an appeal by chemicals company Chemours challenging the classification of so-called 'GenX' chemicals as a "substance of very high concern" by the EU chemical agency.

GenX belongs to the parent group of PFAS — commonly known as 'forever chemicals' — because they are nearly indestructible, accumulating in the environment and human body over time.

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PFOA, one of the most well-known substances of the PFAS family used in the process of making non-sticking cookware Teflon for several years, was internationally banned in 2019.

But the industry substituted it with so-called 'GenX chemicals' since 2009 — which now appear to be even more toxic than PFOA.

After an initiative led by the Netherlands, Gen X chemicals were classified by the EU chemical agency ECHA as "substances of very high concern" in the EU.

But Chemours, a spin-off from chemical giant DuPont that has manufactured Teflon for years, challenged this decision in 2022.

In 2021, the US environment protection agency said that exposure to GenX chemicals can have health effects on the liver, kidneys, immune system, development of offspring, and even lead to cancer.

Chemours, however, has argued that the low levels of GenX detected in the environment do not pose a risk to human health.

Thursday's ruling has been welcomed by the Helsinki-based EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and environmental NGOs.

"ECHA welcomes this judgment of the higher instance which confirms ECHA's decision to include HPFO DA in the candidate list for authorisation on that basis," said ECHA in an emailed statement.

This judgment is final and no further appeal is possible.

"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?," said ClientEarth chemicals lawyer Hélène Duguy.

The EU chemical strategy, unveiled in 2020, foresees the phase-out of all non-essential uses of PFAS substances in the EU — an effort being led by five member states.

However, some critics argue the PFAS ban is moving way too slowly, with some saying it might not kick in until as late as 2025.

The ECHA received more than 5,600 comments on the PFAS ban proposal from more than 4,000 organisations, companies and individuals that need to be analysed by the agency's scientific committees.

The ECHA is expected soon to provide an opinion on the proposal to the EU Commission — which, in collaboration with member states, will then determine whether to implement a potential restriction.

In the EU, the annual health-related costs from PFAS are estimated to be between €52bn and €84bn.

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