Documentary about PFAS chemicals: Thilo Mischke is looking for a dangerous everyday toxin – and has it in his blood himself

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“The stuff nightmares are made of”: Thilo Mischke researched PFAS from Bavaria to Greenland for his startling “ProSieben THEMA”. These chemicals surround us every day, are a profitable business for industry and can make us seriously ill.

We cannot smell, taste or feel it. It surrounds us in everyday life, is in our bed linen, our water-repellent clothing, in the to-go coffee mugs. We are talking about per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds, PFAS for short. Thilo Mischke addresses this “phantom” in his current “ProSieben THEMA”, which the reporter had never heard of before starting his research. The alarming report “Toxic. Indestructible. Thilo Mischke on the trail of deadly chemicals” reveals a striking discrepancy between acute danger and a lack of knowledge about the consequences of the chemicals.

This insidious poison was invented by man himself. There are now over 4,700 substances, the two-hour film focuses largely on PFOA. “The attraction of these substances is that they are both water and fat-repellent,” explains toxicologist Dr. Marike Kolossa-Gehring from the Federal Environment Agency the industrial importance. The field of application is huge and includes cosmetics or paints, among other things. The chemical compound is particularly stable – and the substances are particularly dangerous. They enter the environment through production and disposal.

Invisible poisons can make you infertile

The list of risks is alarming: PFAS are toxic to reproduction, reduce the immune response to vaccinations, increase cholesterol levels and unfavorable fats. Furthermore, they are associated with an increased occurrence of diabetes, lead to reduced birth weight, reduce liver and kidney effects and are also suspected of being carcinogenic. No question: The report that ProSieben broadcast on Monday evening was overdue.

Mischke documentary reminds of chemical scandal in the USA

In Montagana, Italy, the drinking water of thousands of people has been contaminated for decades. Today the group “Mothers against PFAS” has organized itself there, which provides information and demands blood tests for everyone. Because the toxins can be passed on through breast milk. Mischke and his team organize tests for people who may be affected. The result: All children tested have PFAS in their blood, three at alarming levels.

Mischke also has blatant experiences in the USA. There, at the end of the 1990s, a video caused one of the biggest chemical scandals of all time. A West Virginia farmer filmed the first known victims of PFOA: his cows died in droves after drinking from a contaminated river. The culprit was the chemical plant of the Dupont company, which used PFOA by the ton for the production of Teflon – despite knowing better. But in a story full of villains, there must also be a hero: the quiet lawyer Robert Bilott became a star after his self-sacrificing fight for the victims of the chemical giant.

The factory near the 30,000-inhabitant town of Parkersburg is still there. PFAS is still being used on the Ohio River. One employee reports they call the pollution the “Mid Ohio Valley dirt”: “Every time we go to the beach, we feel terrible” – you feel sick. Mischke explains that he thought he had caught Corona, but apparently the scratchy throat was only due to his whereabouts.

Thilo Mischke: “I find it amazing that there is no uprising”

PFAS are a global phenomenon and have long caused major problems in Germany. In the tranquil Bavarian town of Altötting, which is close to a chemical park, Mischke goes to a folk festival. The alcohol level of the visitors is not the only reason why many people come into contact with the topic of PFAS for the first time.

“I studied biochemistry and don’t know anything about it,” a young woman tells him. Another visitor reports that many people who have worked in the chemical plants for decades are broken. Mischke is stunned by the ignorance that prevails in the place of pilgrimage. “I find it amazing that there is no uprising.”

Industry and the district administrator do not want to provide any information, but Altötting Mayor Stephan Antwerpen (CSU) asked Mischkes questions. Antwerp finds itself caught between industry, which he says ensures a “comfort zone” of prosperity, and protecting its people. “Certain concerns” are already there, according to the CSU politician, but the companies should not be scared away either.

Ex-chemist on PFAS: “It’s just the devil’s stuff”

The interview with a former chemist at the chemical park proves to be as revealing as it is frightening. dr Rolf Hengel reports that when he came to the company in 1981, fertility problems were already known. Apparently nobody thought about it anyway. “It was really bad at work, stuff dripped from the ceiling onto the helmet.” thinned out there.” Too late: About a year later he received his cancer diagnosis, the end of his career.

Mischke wants to know how the 70-year-old feels about having contributed to the contamination. Hegel replies that he doesn’t really blame himself. “I feel punished enough,” explains the drawn ex-chemist. His conclusion, which also applies to the entire report: “It’s just the devil’s stuff.” Incidentally, the successor material is currently being produced near Altötting. According to Hegel, it is now degradable, but no less toxic.

Thilo Mischke’s blood is contaminated by PFAS

However, the film also reveals that a nearby chemical park is not the only risk factor for heavy PFAS exposure. There also seems to be a connection to the area around airports, as the current example of the closed Berlin-Tegel Airport shows. However, there is another former airport area in the capital that is now used as a local recreation area: Tempelhof. Here, too, Mischke takes samples, and here, too, the strain is enormous.

Thilo Mischke is also from Berlin, he is on the Tempelhofer Feld for the first time for the shooting. Separately, he underwent a blood analysis himself. The reporter wants to know to what extent he himself has already ingested the chemical. “Now it’s official”: The result shows 0.94 micrograms of PFOA and 2.07 micrograms of PFOS. Toxicologist Kolossa-Gehring explains the classification: “The limit from which we would no longer be toxicologically satisfied is only twice as high as the burden he has.”

No obligation to report chemicals in Germany

There is no list of German companies that use the chemical, nor is there an obligation to report. “We can definitely no longer watch these substances get into the environment across the board,” explains Germany’s Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) in the ProSieben film. Something is about to change across the EU, and Germany is one of five countries that are daring to make such a move. It’s not an easy fight against the chemical lobby.

The fact is: A recent Swedish study states that PFAS can be detected in rainwater worldwide. It is so contaminated that drinking rainwater is generally discouraged. Has the chemical really made its way to the most remote corners of the earth? Mischke even travels to Greenland to find out. Some time later, the result comes from the laboratory: PFAS have been detected on the mainland, albeit just measurable – but the values ​​will increase.

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Peggy McColl

Mentor l NY Times Bestselling Author. Hi, I'm Peggy McColl, and I'm here to deliver a positive message to you!

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