ChemKom – Strategic science communication on the risks of perpetuity chemicals

The ChemKom research project investigates the strategic science communication of organizations on the risks of perpetuity chemicals (PFAS). In addition to the communication of selected organizations, the internal scientific assessment of these risks, media reporting and public reception are also being evaluated. In addition, a specific dialogue format will be developed and tested for communicating the risks of PFAS.

Research approach

Up to now, there has been little research into how organizations refer to science in order to legitimize their own interests when communicating. Therefore, tChemKom is now setting out to investigate how scientific organizations such as universities, non-scientific organizations such as industrial associations, administrative bodies, and NGOs strategically communicate scientific content. Here, the focus is specifically on the communication regarding perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”. 

The network led by ISOE, analyzes how organizations from different fields of discourse communicate on PFAS: ISOE initially deals with the field of science and traces the internal scientific debate on PFAS and their possible restriction. To this end, different framings of various scientific publications are identified. Additionally, ISOE examines the strategic communication of relevant organizations that refer to scientific knowledge, but also take advantage of uncertainty and ignorance of PFAS in order to pursue their interests . The analysis is based on interviews, participatory observations and the evaluation of various types of documents. 

On the basis of press articles, the research partner University of Hamburg describes and analyzes the image of perpetual chemicals in the media in order to work out how they evolved as a topic of interest, what framings are used and which organizations are significantly involved. The research partner UfU is focussing on the recipients of science communication and the extemt of their trust in science. To this end, focus group discussions and interviews are being conducted and analyzed. Furthermore, the network is developing a dialogue format for structuring the divergent scientific content on PFAS with the aim of democratizing science communication. The format will be implemented and evaluated in order to assess its potential for other topics.

With this broad research approach, the project aims to make a contribution to the emerging field of organizational strategic science communication andthe example of PFAS enables generalizable insights into how organizations strategically communicate with regard to chemicals and their risks.


So far, research on organizational science communication has focused primarily on press and public relations work (external science communication), while research on strategic science communication has primarily been concerned with PR strategies used by universities to increase their visibility, reputation and recognition among the public. ChemKom combines research on organizational science communication with that on strategic communication. Taking the current controversial debates on PFAS as an example, the science-related strategic communication of various organizations that aims to strengthen their interests is being analyzed.

PFAS constitute a group of substances that comprises more than 10,000 chemicals. Due to their water, grease and dirt repellent properties, these substances are used in a wide range of products and owing to these properties are practically non-degradable . The chemicals therefore accumulate in the environment worldwide and have also been detected in human blood and breast milk. The EU is currently examining a restriction of the entire group of substances. In connection with the debate on PFAS, scientific evidence and its communication gain particular relevance when it comes to the scientific legitimization of restriction measures. The risk assessment of PFAS is not only politically controversial due to the complexity and diversity of the substance group and the existing lack of knowledge about the topic, but controversies also exist within the scientific community. There are different positions within  the scientific community as to whether the entire group of substances should be banned or whether the toxicity of the associated substances should each be assessed individually. 

Research and project partners


The project “ChemKom – Strategic science communication on the risks of perpetual chemicals – analysis of organisations, arenas and reception” is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).


2023/12 – 2026/12