5 February, Brussels – Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo visits the European Parliament today to present Dark Waters. In the film he plays real-life lawyer Robert Biliott, who uncovered massive PFAS pollution of US drinking water by DuPont. The parallels between chemical pollution in the US and EU are striking, NGOs say.
PFAS is a group of nearly 5,000 substances that are highly persistent, toxic, very mobile and currently impossible to clean up. They are used in goods such as waterproof clothing, non-stick kitchenware and even dental floss. They are detected in the vast majority of those tested, including babies. Exposure is linked to health impacts such as lower birth weight and size, reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty, thyroid disease, liver damage, kidney and testicular cancer. Prenatal exposure to some PFAS can disrupt brain development and cause major birth defects. Scientists say PFAS pollution in Europe is a “potentially serious public health problem” with “alarming” levels found in children, often higher than in adults. Governments estimate the health costs at up to €84 billion annually.
Some 100,000 sites across Europe are thought to create PFAS pollution. That is likely the tip of the iceberg. Many PFAS found in the environment are not registered and European authorities are unaware of who is using what, where and how toxic it is. Just two groups (PFOA and PFOS derivatives) have been regulated in Europe in the last 60 years.
Johanna Sandahl, President of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:
“PFAS pollution is out of control in the US and in Europe. If it takes an angry Hulk to wake Brussels up, so be it. The PFAS mess is a symptom of a systemic problem at the heart of European chemical controls. Industry should not be allowed to sell substances before they are proven safe, but it does. It should not take a decade to catch up with the dangerous ones, but it often can. Our children should not be born contaminated with toxic substances, but they are. The EU needs to get a grip on a reckless chemical industry, fast.”
NGOs want all PFAS and other persistent or bioaccumulative chemicals to be phased out and EU chemical laws strengthened. Environment ministers have asked the European Commission to phase out all non-essential uses of PFAS. The Netherlands is drafting a comprehensive restriction.
Dark Waters goes on general release in Italy on 20 February, in Belgium and France 26 February, in the United Kingdom on 28 February and in Germany on 16 April.