Poisoning the Planet – The next set of Challenges for Change


April 30, 2024

Independence remains one of the most powerful words in the current market of greenwashing and ambivalence when the subject of PFAS and contamination risk are the topic of conversation.

PFAS-Free Australia is precisely that – independent.  Since 2017 our small but experienced and globally connected group have provided update and assessment of the key activities and outcomes in the acknowledgment of the growing storm around these ubiquitous “Forever Chemicals”.

In recent months and with a growing support base from some unlikely sectors of the domestic market, national media are finally reporting and finding relevance to global recognition of the impact of PFAS – perhaps more commonly known as “Forever Chemicals”.

As April draws to a close, many people will have caught the STAN Original documentary – How To Poison a Planet featuring Mark Ruffalo.  However, the real hero of this documentary is legendary lawyer Robert Bilott of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.  Rob is the man that turned the US environmental movement on its head when he changed sides at the boardroom table and tackled the swell of issues and the discovery of hidden agenda from Global giants – 3M, Du Pont and the plethora of second tier users of PFAS chemicals.  Mounting the case against 3M would not have occurred without the diligence and persistence of the lead attorney and his team – Gary Douglas of Douglas & London.

The ground swell of both evidence and disgust at the arrogance of the corporations behind PFOA and PFAS, certainly provided a drama worthy of Hollywood and it was Mark Ruffalo that portrayed Rob Bilott in Dark Waters (2019) – the screen dramatization of a 20-year battle to open the worlds eyes to the silent and widespread abuse of a manmade compound that purported to make life easy.

From the 1950’s, 3M developed, manufactured, and supported the sub-manufacture of household items that made life easier by ensuring that food didn’t stick to the surface of the saucepan coated with Teflon, or the Scotchgard on the couch made certain it would not absorb that splash of red wine.  PFAS coatings found their way into lining metal cans, acted as reagents for commercial lubrication, performed brilliantly as surfactants in industry and even changed the constituents and therefore performance of sunscreen and make-up and even food contact packaging.

Then there is the well documented impact and overuse in Fire Suppressant foams and the legacy that has subsequently impacted defence departments, communities, individuals, natural water courses and delivered the resounding assessment of futility across the globe.

Australia is not immune to these nasty man-made chemicals and How to Poison a Planet features a resoundingly direct and some might say “too close to home” investigation into the Jervis Bay township of Wreck Bay.  Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist Carrie Fellner assembled her input to the documentary over 4 years, and the results and impact to the Aboriginal community of Wreck Bay are uncomfortable to watch – let alone accept as happening in our own backyard.

The simple reality is that PFAS is here to stay and as a global community we are no closer to agreeing suitable options that can reverse the poisoning of decades.  Nor are we really prepared to have those difficult conversations that have to be had, relative to the remediation that must carry some burden of cost to all those that have profited from the revenue streams over such an extended period of time.

However, the challenge is more than just the remediation of the land and environmental impacts.  Are these costs to be borne by the end user or does the manufacturer of the source chemical shoulder the full liability?

In light of the disclosures that are now on record from the abhorrent conduct of 3M, the sentiment is high in respect to their culpability in the whole sordid contamination of our planet.

The tragedy that has been dropped on the community of Wreck Bay has been settled, some might suggest, by the compensation for the health impacts over generations of elders and young people.

But is the determination of a quantum paid by the Defence Department (with no acceptance of liability) a win?  It cannot be judged as such.  It makes a consideration for the here and now, but what of the clean-up of the area, the ancestral significance of the region to the local peoples and the environmental damage that will live in the location for generations and decades to come.

With this challenge now on our doorstep, we are hopeful that the time and hopefully increased awareness beyond industry groups, activists, consultants, and media, might start to deliver a cohesive plan for action and strategy.

We anticipate increased demand for testing and validation of the claims for products that are PFAS-free.  Regrettably, these claims are all too common and from the data we have assembled, the wishy-washy declarations of “No Added PFAS” just cannot be permitted as acceptable.  Any PFAS must be declared as the enemy and the requisite management of all viable alternative product must be the goal.

PFAS Free Australia is ready to assist with our network of independent laboratories and follow this through with the inclusion of the benchmarking report from similar product groups.  This data has been collated since 2017 and encompasses 3 independent laboratories and a range of testing protocols across our global network.

In the coming days, our May PFAS Testing Program will be announced, and we look forward to continuing to broaden the awareness, the true measurement of risk and hopefully a deeper understanding of the changes that need to be broadly adopted to fight the ongoing risk of these insidious “Forever Chemicals”.