The first thing that went through my mind as I entered Jan and Ineke van Genderen’s living room was how close the DuPont/Chemours facility was. I could almost see it from the window. It is one street over.
Jan and Ineke are a friendly retired couple from Dordrecht, a town of about 118 000 people in the western Netherlands. They have lovely grandchildren and are active in their community. Jan worked at the DuPont’s Teflon division. He met Ineke at the entrance of the plant 35 years ago.
Today they have become the faces of PFC pollution in the area, a group of chemicals produced by DuPont and other chemical companies and used in many consumer goods, including packaging, cookware and outdoor waterproof gear.
In April 2015, the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad wrote about their story and published their blood test results. Both showed high levels of PFOA in their blood. Ineke’s results were almost three times higher than those of her husband although she never worked at the plant.
PFOA was used until 2012 for the production of Teflon. PFOA was placed on the REACH Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern in 2013 and is being considered for inclusion on the international Stockholm Convention that globally restricts certain Persistent Organic Pollutants because of its persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic properties. The chemical affects the reproductive system and has been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by IARC
For Jan and Ineke it is a waiting game. The doctors cannot predict what their PFOA concentration means for their health, but serious health conditions have been associated with PFOA exposure in other contaminated areas.
Elske Krikhaar is a Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace International.
In 2015, Gwen and Earl Botkin and thousands of local residents joined to form Keep Your Promises DuPont, which is dedicated to holding DuPont accountable for decades of drinking water contamination. For decades, DuPont dumped PFOA a PFC used to make Teflon, directly into the Ohio River.
A class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Ohio residents established that DuPont had credible scientific evidence that PFOA might be harmful to human health and that the company covered up the evidence and hid the facts from local residents, regulators, and elected officials. By the time they were forced to stop, DuPont had dumped, poured and released over 1.7 million pounds of PFOA (770 tonnes) into the environment. A science panel established as part of the Dupont case, concluded that for six disease categories there was a “probable link” to C8 (also known as PFOA) exposure: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
By partnering with organisations like Greenpeace, we have succeeded in drawing worldwide attention to PFC contamination and DuPont’s actions in the United States. When we discovered that DuPont had caused many of the same contamination issues at their plant in the Netherlands, we traveled to Dordrecht to learn more, bring our knowledge of DuPont’s deceptive practices, and organise local activists, NGOs, elected officials, and scientists to ensure that DuPont cannot get away with contaminating our environment and exposing people to hazardous chemicals once again. Our partnership with Dutch activists has resulted in protests, parliamentary hearings, investigations, and more, and we are just getting started!
To support this crucial work, go to KeepYourPromisesDuPont.com/GwenandEarl.
Jeffrey Dugas is a Campaign Manager at Keep Your Promises DuPont.
While in the US and Europe PFOA has been mostly replaced with shorter chain PFCs, in China it is still being used in some factories. But also short chain PFC are hazardous chemicals: more than 200 scientists from 38 countries have signed a statement discouraging the use of all PFCs – including short chain – in the manufacture of consumer goods.
Join our fight against toxic chemicals to make sure the sad stories from people like Jan, Gwen and Earl are not repeated over and over again.