The Forever Pollution Project, or how to practise “peer-reviewed” journalism
09-30, 13:30–15:00 (Europe/Berlin), Stahlhalle
Language: English

You have heard of them as ingredients of Teflon or Scotchgard. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), AKA “forever chemicals”, don’t degrade in the environment and can be found in every drop of rain, tap water… or blood.

The Forever Pollution Project undertook to evaluate the magnitude of PFAS contamination in Europe with innovative “peer-reviewed” journalism. Besides collecting dozens of studies monitoring data in water and soil, the team created an original dataset containing tens of thousands of presumptive contamination sites across Europe such as military sites, airports, paper mills or textile factories. To build the first ever Map of Forever pollution in Europe, they adapted, with their support, a methodology developed by a team of scientists to locate PFAS contamination in the United States.

The final product is a work of journalism that led to major national investigations in several European countries. It also provided regional media companies, impacted community members, citizens, researchers and regulators with a transparent tool to work with and deepen the discussions around one of the biggest environmental problems our societies are facing right now.

How to interact and build mutual trust with scientists to create a stimulating collaborative environment? How to elaborate a sound methodology and create technical mastery when you ‘only’ have the resources of journalism? How to adapt such a hybrid project at the national level given specific cultural and legal contexts? How to find actual stories to tell when you are swimming in nanograms per liter and “limits of detection"? These are the questions the team had to face and will share.

Stéphane Horel is an investigative journalist at Le Monde. As an author of several films and books, she specialises in corporate harm, toxic industries, conflict of interest and scientific disinformation. In early 2023, she supervised the European map of PFAS contamination of the "Forever Pollution Project". Her long-term investigation on the European regulation of endocrine disruptors was shortlisted for the Albert Londres Prize (2016) and received the Louise Weiss Prize for European Journalism (2017). Her series of articles on the "Monsanto papers", co-authored with Stéphane Foucart was awarded the 2018 European Press Prize for Investigation. In the past years, she has worked on environmental pollution, pesticides, Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol, and is trying to improve the world at the margin with cross-border investigation. She also loves cheese...

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Holger Wormer ist Professor für Wissenschaftsjournalismus an der TU Dortmund und einer der Leiter des Rhine Ruhr Center for Science Communication Research (RRC).

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Luc Martinon is a freelance data-journalist. He worked previously at Le Monde, in the investigative team of "les décodeurs". He participated in cross-border projects such as the Forever Pollution Project about PFAS. He is also leading the Euros For Docs project, facilitating the use of the french public database "Transparence Santé", about financial ties between pharma-industry and doctors. French but Berlin-based.

Sarah Pilz is a freelance journalist in Germany with a focus on EU politics and lobbying. As network coordinator at Arena for Journalism in Europe, she works on connecting journalists across Europe and coordinating cross-border projects. She investigated the influence of the big tech lobby on the EU AI Act, and the pollution of "forever chemicals" in Europe as part of the "Forever Pollution Project".