Loading Now

Inside the fight to ban — and destroy — PFAS ‘forever chemicals’

Inside the fight to ban — and destroy — PFAS ‘forever chemicals’

Inside the fight to ban — and destroy — PFAS ‘forever chemicals’

For over 40 years, Ted Van der Vlies and his wife Marga grew fruits and vegetables in their backyard on the outskirts of Dordrecht, the Netherlands. Onions, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, rhubarb, cherries, you name it. 

Little did they know that their homegrown produce was likely poisoning them. 

Just a kilometre away from their garden sits the tangled mesh of steel pipes, giant vats, and smokestacks of the Chemours chemical plant. A recent court case found that the American conglomerate knowingly dumped PFAS chemicals into the environment around Dordrecht for decades.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short, are a group of more than 10,000 man-made chemicals famed for their water, heat, and oil resistant properties. They are found in thousands of products, from microchips and firefighting foam to food packaging and non-stick cookware. 

While extremely useful, PFAS take thousands of years to break down in nature — lending them the name “forever chemicals.” Researchers have linked PFAS to decreased fertility, birth defects, and a multitude of cancers.  

The levels of PFAS in Van der Vlies’ blood are dozens of times above the safety standard, Dutch documentary producer Zembla reports. He is seriously ill. He has both skin cancer and chronic leukaemia. Van der Vlies is adamant his condition was the result of drinking water and eating vegetables contaminated with the forever chemicals.