This article was last updated on November 15, 2023
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‘Pfas the new asbestos’: investors call on companies to stop using it
An international group of major investors is calling on the fifty largest listed chemical companies to stop producing pfas. The more than fifty investors jointly manage 10,000 billion dollars. In a letter to the top of the chemical companies, they call pfas “the new asbestos”.
Investors want companies such as Chemours, DuPont, BASF and Bayer to follow the example of the American chemical company 3M. That decided late last year to stop the production of poorly degradable PFAs by 2025 at the latest. Also in the Netherlands the consequences of these 3M emissions are noticeable.
“This year the first chemical company went bankrupt, and more are expected,” shareholders warn. They calculated that chemical companies in the United States alone will spend $64.5 billion to $248 billion on removing PFAs from drinking water, and more than $400 billion on total cleanup.
What are pfas?
Pfas is a collective name for thousands of chemicals that do not occur naturally in the environment. The abbreviation pfas stands for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. There are approximately 5000 different species. They are used, for example, to make water-repellent clothing and frying pans, but are bad for the environment, hardly degradable and affect the immune system.
The group of investors includes asset managers such as Robeco and the asset management divisions of insurers such as AXA and banks such as BNP Paribas and Triodos. Delegates are said to have held sixteen discussions this year with the top of the fifty chemical companies about pfas. Today they are now also making an official request by letter to stop production as soon as possible.
The letter makes a comparison between pfas and asbestos, cheap fibers that were widely used in construction. It was banned in the Netherlands in 1993 when asbestos fibers circulating in the air were found to be carcinogenic.
In a press release, Sonja Haider says on behalf of the group of investors that it is “clear that pfas is the new asbestos”. She states that it is “game over” for PFAS: “The full impact of this danger has not yet been priced into the shares of these chemical companies. The fact that some companies continue to defend PFAS is both cynical and short-sighted.”
In an earlier version it was reported that AkzoNobel had been asked by investors to stop pfas. That is incorrect. AkzoNobel does not produce pfas.