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Friday, May 26, 2023

PFAS Are Costing Society Over $17 Trillion Per Year Worldwide

Surprisingly, they return low profit margins for manufacturers


The societal cost of PFAS – also known as “forever chemicals” – exceeds $17 trillion across the global economy, according to a forthcoming report from Sweden-based NGO, ChemSec.

The findings also indicate that PFAS chemicals provide extremely low ROI for their manufacturers, at just $4 billion of profit annually – which might sound grand on the surface, but is paltry when you consider that there are 12 manufacturers that account for most of the PFAS produced worldwide. 

“If you compare the profits that they make and the cost to society – it’s ridiculous,” said Peter Pierrou, ChemSec’s communications director, in an interview with The Guardian.

PFAS – which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are a group of about 15,000 chemicals used in products that are used in the manufacture of endless products, many of which provide convenience and safety. 

These include such things as firefighting foam, medical devices, stain-resistant carpeting, waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware, and the production of semiconductor chips that power technology.

Unfortunately, many of these “forever chemicals” are linked to a number of health issues, including increased incidence of cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions. They are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down. 

“What makes them such a threat is that they are biopersistent,” said Dr. Charlie Rolsky, Senior Scientist at the Shaw Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, and a renowned researcher on PFAS and other pollutants. “This means they remain in humans and wildlife indefinitely without breaking down. They also are bioaccumulative, which is a fancy way of saying that they build up inside of us at increasing rates. ”

ChemSec, producers of the report, is an NGO that works with industry and policymakers to limit the use of toxic chemicals. They produced the economic analysis with the goal of showing how the high cost of PFAS is a burden taken on by governments that are forced to cover the costs of cleaning up pollution and for the healthcare of individuals who suffer from medical consequences related to exposure. 

In addition to looking at economic impact, ChemSec also broke down PFAS societal economic impact into four categories: water and soil remediation, which are the most costly, as well as bio monitoring and healthcare costs; while also classifying each chemical as “essential” or “non-essential.”

The Guardian points out that those questions are likely to become a focal point in the debate over the chemicals’ use in upcoming years as proposed legislation in the EU would ban the chemicals except for essential uses, and a law passed in Maine that goes into effect in 2030 takes a similar approach.

While industry claims most PFAS are essential, ChemSec’s report says that only 8% are.

Pierrou told The Guardian: “There are so many industry voices that are opposing the PFAS ban and they are using the ‘essential use’ concept as an excuse: ‘We cannot ban PFAS or everything will sink and go under.’ The parts that are ‘essential’ are really minor and there are so many uses we could do without.”

What motivated this report? In the end, money talks. Just as consumers have the power to create change through their purchasing decisions, so too, and probably more so, do the investment firms that keep the mega manufacturers financed. 

The report grew out of ChemSec’s work with such firms to pressure companies to eliminate PFAS, Pierrou told The Guardian.

“There’s no question that regulation, like we’ll have here in Maine, and recent lawsuit victories against manufacturers have made a difference,” said Rolksy. “Investors are concerned because they know that the public health risks of PFAS are negatively impacting the returns on their investment. While industry might evade questions from the public, they can’t really ignore the hands that feed them.” 

The full report will be released by ChemSec around June 1. Once DCReport is able to read and analyze it, we’ll offer additional reporting on it. Click here to learn more about recent US measures to combat PFAS.

Tod Hardin was a founding staff member of DCReport and now serves as our managing editor. For the past decade he has also written for and served as the special features editor over at our sister publication, Cultural Daily. His writing has also appeared in various publications around the country, and through hundreds of blog articles written for such organizations as Plastic Oceans International, California North Coast Tourism Council, Social Forestry Foundation and others. In addition, he is also an award-winning filmmaker, with credits that include producing and writing a variety of short documentary films, in addition to directing the highly acclaimed feature-length documentary AGAINST THE CURRENT.