The production and use of forever chemicals in the European Union would be largely banned under a proposal issued Tuesday by the European Chemicals Agency.
The ban, which will affect about 10,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), will hit multiple economic activities and leave companies searching for alternatives for their products and production processes. The ban will also extend to imports to the EU of products containing PFAS.
The PFAS prohibition would be phased in through the late 2030s as derogations for some uses of PFAS run out.
Because PFAS uses are so widespread, the ban will affect thousands of products, including electronic devices, wind turbines and solar panels, cosmetics, medical devices, industrial equipment, and cookware.
PFAS have already accrued irreversibly in the environment and the crackdown on their production and use was needed to stop the buildup of the substances because “the exposure of humans and the environment to these substances will inevitably lead to negative effects,” the proposed ban said.
The proposed ban—the EU’s largest-ever chemicals prohibition—was a “landmark proposal” that would help the EU achieve its goal of a non-toxic environment by 2050, said Peter van der Zandt, the European Chemicals Agency’s director for risk assessment.
The ban will be introduced as a restriction under the EU REACH chemicals law (Regulation 1272/2013 on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). It will apply to PFAS themselves and to PFAS in other substances, mixtures, and products above a concentration of 25 parts per billion.
The ban will apply 18 months after finalization of the restriction—expected in 2025—though a range of derogations will be allowed for additional periods of five or 12 years.
Derogations of five years will be allowed for uses where alternatives to PFAS are available in principle, but haven’t yet been developed at scale, while 12-year derogations would be allowed for uses where alternatives still have to be developed, said Richard Luit, a policy adviser at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, speaking at a briefing Tuesday in Brussels.
Five-year derogations will apply, for example, to PFAS in protective clothing and in some specialized refrigeration applications, and to fluoropolymers, a PFAS sub-group, in food contact materials used in food production.
Twelve-year derogations would apply to applications including PFAS in implantable medical devices, hydraulic fluids in aircraft, and some laboratory equipment.
Other derogations could be added, depending on information provided during a six-month public consultation that the European Chemicals Agency will start on March 22, Luit said.
Risk to Production
The restriction proposal would reduce emissions to the European Union environment from the production and use of PFAS by 95%, Luit said. The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, with authorities from Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden, drafted the proposal before handing it over to ECHA for the adoption process.
The proposal “not only covers an unprecedented number of diverse substances, but also has a huge impact on many downstream products we use in our daily lives,” said Marleen Pauwels, executive director of the halogens sector for the European Chemical Industry Council. The restriction could prohibit “some applications that have been flagged to us as critical to society,” she said.
“The broad scope of the PFAS restriction proposal threatens the semiconductor industry’s access to the chemistries that are critical for production,” said Mathias Müller, sustainability and environment officer for the European Semiconductor Industry Association.
“In light of the lack of alternatives, without an exemption, the European semiconductor industry will not be able to continue manufacturing in Europe,” he said.
Use of fluoropolymers in the production of electrolyzers and hydrogen fuel cells should be an exempted use, or the PFAS restriction “would threaten the whole European hydrogen industry and its global competitiveness,” said Peter Collins, spokesman for Hydrogen Europe.
The aim of the restriction “must be to take a differentiated approach and ensure the safe use of PFAS in applications that are crucial to key sectors,” said Marc de Bruyn, spokesman for PFAS producer Bayer AG.
Banning PFAS in consumer products was welcome, said Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organization.
“These chemicals should have never been put on the market in the first place,” she said.
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