A debate erupted in the European Union on Tuesday over a proposal to ban Per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemical substances (PFAS) by the year 2026. If the proposal moves forward, it could become the most extensive overall regulation in the chemical industry.
According to the European Chemicals Agency, PFAS are a large family of thousands of synthetic chemicals used throughout society that have been linked to having environmental pollutants and having negative effects on human health.
Many products such as food packaging, non-stick coatings for frying pans and pots, paint and construction materials, fire-fighting foams and fire protective clothing include PFAS.
These substances contain carbon-fluorine bonds, one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry and can contaminate groundwater, surface water and soil. Their use has been a concern because the cleanup of sites after contamination with PFAS is quite complicated.
PFAS have been given the phrase ‘forever chemicals’ as a name since they resist in nature and accumulate in living organisms, and can reach food, for example.
Experts are concerned over these chemicals due to the fact that these substances can reach drinking water and some of the PFAS can be toxic to the reproductive system, harm newborn babies and others are suspected of interfering with the human hormonal system.
In a joint statement, quoted by numerous European countries not included within the EU, said that the new proposal would reduce the amount of PFAS in the environment in the long term, making manufacturing processes safer for everyone.
Reuters reported that the EU is considering including an interval of between 18 months and 12 years within the proposal for manufacturers to find new solutions and be able to adapt after more than ten thousand substances become banned. Five European nations are apprehensive that many desirable alternatives currently do not exist and may never develop.
In other words, some substitutions will be complicated. Waterproofing agents for textiles are the easiest to replace with paraffin wax. But for some medical devices, such as pacemakers, there are currently no substitutes.
Companies which use PFAS within their products are not satisfied with the possibility of the proposal going forward. They have created a subgroup, called FPP4EU, in response to the European chemical maker`s association CEFIC who supports the chemicals regulation.
On FPP4EU’s official website they explain that properties and applications of PFASs improve a number of technologies that make people's lives more convenient and the chemicals that are present in many industry sectors necessary for our society, such as construction, transport and defense.
“FPP4EU’s main concern is that the restriction proposal may still lead to disruptions of certain value chains and eventually eliminate some key applications," said Jonathan Crozier, FPP4EU's Chair of Advocacy and Communications, quoted by Reuters.
Two working groups of ECHA must now study whether the proposal to ban PFASs complies with REACH, Regulation for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. The next step will be a scientific evaluation and consultation with industry. ECHA states, according to Reuters, that the working groups may need more than a year to complete the assessment.
Picture: Water samples for PFAS analysis. Credit: Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy
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