To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023 CHEM Trust spoke with Annelies den Boer, the founder of the five-year-old Dutch organisation Tegengif; which means ‘antidote’ in Dutch.
Annelies comes from the field of health protection advocacy and for several years worked with Doctors Without Borders. Together with volunteers and freelancers, she runs the operations of Tegengif. And they are delivering impact; by taking a lead role in the Netherlands to deliver the ban-PFAS Manifesto, signed by over 100 civil society organisations, to their government.
What is the work of Tegengif?
Our mission is to raise public awareness about chemical pollution. We test everyday consumer products like perfumes and cosmetics for various problematic chemicals such as endocrine disruptors and PFAS. Then we publish the results so that citizens can know more about their daily exposure to toxic chemicals.
Public pressure and media attention are crucial to get topics higher on the agenda of MPs and the government.
When did the PFAS contamination become known to the media and the general public?
Three years ago, authorities found that soil around several sites, such as the Chemours plant, airports and firefighting training locations, exceeded national pollution levels. Many building activities had to stop. People were not happy, because we are a small and very densely populated country, and we have a housing shortage.
The Dutch Parliament also became interested in the topic. It adopted a motion in June last year, calling on the Netherlands to go for an EU ban with no exemptions. This is notable, as having a majority in parliament on the topic of chemicals is usually not easy.
How was the Ban PFAS Manifesto received in the Netherlands?
We secured a lot of media attention and were approached by other Dutch civil society organisations. Members of the Parliament have also referred to our Manifesto. You can really see that there’s a lot of interest.
What can the Dutch government do on PFAS, while waiting for an EU-wide ban?
The government should initiate a national biomonitoring plan for PFAS and other problematic chemicals. The Minister of Health is now studying the possibility of having such a plan and an answer is expected by the end of 2023.
Furthermore, we think that people who have been living near PFAS hotspots, some of them for more than 20 years, should receive special attention and care.
We also want the government to phase out the use of PFAS in the medical sector and for health institutions to start looking for PFAS-free alternatives.