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Story of the month by ODDO BHF Asset Management.

Widely used in many sectors owing to their exceptional properties, perfluorinated substances, known as “eternal pollutants”, have been the subject of a wave of regulation in recent years, with the ultimate aim of banning them in view of the risks they pose to biodiversity and health. Eliminating them requires investment in infrastructure and advanced treatment technologies, which, according to the latest estimates, represent an addressable market of around $200 billion in the United States.


Perfluorinated substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemical compounds with non-stick, waterproof and heat-resistant properties. They have been widely used since the 1950s in a range of industries and everyday consumer products: textiles, food packaging, fire-fighting foams, non-stick coatings, cosmetics and even plant protection products.

Certain substances such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulphonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) attracted the attention of toxicologists in the late 1990s because of their persistence in the environment and their potential toxicity to living organisms (increased risk of cancer, reduced fertility in particular). Since then, numerous scientific publications worldwide have pointed in this direction, and the term “eternal pollutants” has entered the public debate.

It was against this backdrop that the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants came into being in 2001. This is an international agreement signed by 152 countries to regulate the use of certain pollutants.


In the face of growing concerns and complaints about environmental and health risks, various regulatory bodies have taken up the issue. In 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a (non-mandatory) limit on the concentration of PFOS and PFOA per liter of water. In 2019, the Council of Europe called on the European Commission to draw up an action plan to phase out all non-essential uses of PFAS’s, given the growing evidence of adverse effects from exposure to these substances and the evidence of their widespread presence in water, soil and waste, which may pose a threat to drinking water.

The year 2023 marks an acceleration towards a ban on certain PFAS’s. In the United States, where 11 states have already adopted restrictive measures, it is expected that from 2024 PFAS will be included in the CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) list, making it compulsory to clean up affected industrial sites. In Europe, on the initiative of five countries, a proposal has been submitted to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to gradually restrict and eventually ban the use of PFAS.


Limiting the quantity and ultimately eliminating PFAS from water, soil and air involves filtering, separating and then destroying them. There is no standard way of treating PFAS today, but several technologies are already proving effective. For example, micronic filtration and reverse osmosis can remove up to 90% of PFAS, while ion exchange technology can remove up to 100%. These processes require significant investment in treatment space and equipment, and produce waste that also needs to be treated.

According to McKinsey, the treatment of PFAS could eventually represent a market potentially worth around $200 billion in the United States.


We are currently invested in four companies involved in the treatment of PFAS in the United States:

  • Ecolab, a group offering treatment and depollution solutions for the healthcare, agri-food, industrial and energy sectors. In 2021, Ecolab acquired Purolite, a company specialising in ion exchange technology for the treatment of PFAS.
  • Tetra Tech, the US market leader in water engineering services with an 18% market share, signed an $800m contract with the US Army in 2023 to treat PFAS at 500 bases across the country.
  • Republic Services and Waste Connections, two companies specialising in waste collection and management, both offer PFAS treatment services.
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