RI Annual Report 2023

Active Ownership


Engaging on forever chemicals

PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in an extensive range of industries and consumer products since the 1940s30. The overall size of this family of chemicals is not clearly defined, but a widely used definition from the OECD lists over 4,700 distinct substances. PFAS have many desirable properties, including resistance to heat and chemical attack, allowing for their widespread use in industrial applications as well as everyday commercial and consumer products:

paper and packaging

non-stick cookware

clothing and carpets

pesticides and herbicides

outdoor textiles and sporting equipment

windshield wipers

ski and snowboard waxes

paints, varnishes, dyes, and inks

PFAS: a threat to humans and the environment While PFAS have unique properties that offer significant utility in various applications, they are also accompanied by signifi- cant downsides. With their remarkable durability, PFAS barely degrade once released into the environment and may even accumulate in humans, animals and soil. Hence, they have been dubbed ‘forever chemicals’. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) notes that their long usage coupled with persistence and accumulation is of grave concern, given the possibility of serious health impacts linked to continuous exposure.

On top of the human health and environmental concerns, PFAS are of interest to investors due to the evolving regulatory land- scape, mainly in the EU and in the US. In the EU, for instance, there is a proposed ban on all PFAS chemicals which would – if it comes into force – prohibit both the production as well as the usage of all chemicals within the PFAS family. While the outcome of the proposed regulation is still unclear, the consultation phase from the EU’s chemical agency received an unprecedented 5,600 replies.31 Furthermore, litigation on soil and water and pollution is also becoming more widespread, with multiple settlements agreed throughout the year with significant cost impacts.

30) ITRC (2017), History and Use of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). 31) ChemSec (2023): 8 critical points about PFAS that the EU needs to know.

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