Call to phase out ‘forever chemicals’ gains investor momentum

A general view of chemical industries in the city of CubataoA general view of chemical industries in the city of Cubatao, Brazil June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo

  • Investors demand end to hazardous PFAS chemicals
  • 47 investors managing $8 trillion in assets join call
  • Call comes ahead of COP15 talks on biodiversity

LONDON, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Investors managing $8 trillion in assets have written to the world's biggest chemicals companies urging them to phase out the use of so-called forever chemicals that can accumulate in the environment and remain hazardous for generations.

Known as PFAS, which stands for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, the chemicals are used in everything from cosmetics to furniture and have been linked to illnesses including cancer and liver damage.

The 47 investors, including Aviva Investors and Storebrand Asset Management, wrote to 54 companies in mid-September citing a range of risks, including an increased threat of litigation.

Support for the campaign has doubled since its launch last year, when 23 investors with $4.4 trillion backed a similar call, and ahead of the COP15 global talks aimed at protecting biodiversity, due to start in Montreal on Dec. 7.

In a copy of the letter, seen by Reuters, the investors said knowledge about the negative impacts of PFAS was increasing among policymakers and could herald stricter regulations.

They called for companies to be more transparent about their global production of the chemicals, publish a time-bound plan to phase out their production and share data with non-profit industry tracker ChemSec.

In its annual ranking, ChemSec found just four companies had a plan to phase out persistent chemicals from their portfolio, and the average score was 13.3 out of 48.

"The global chemical industry is turning a blind eye to the unfolding chemical pollution crisis," said Sonja Haider, Senior Business and Investor Advisor at ChemSec.

"Most companies are taking little or no action to phase out hazardous chemicals despite the risks to public health, the environment and shareholder value."

Eugenie Mathieu of Aviva Investors said chemical manufacturers were still lagging the expectations of investors, who were pushing for better disclosure on the volume of substances being produced, which can inform better investment decisions.

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