At the beginning of the year 2023, the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS (also qualified as eternal pollutants) occupy a large part of the news. In this article we will first give a general definition of PFAS, and then divide it into several parts summarizing the main news to be retained.
PFASs are a large family of more than 10,000 substances containing at least one perfluorinated methyl group (-CF3) or perfluorinated methylene group (-CF2-) without any hydrogen, chlorine, bromine or iodine atoms attached to it. The strength of the carbon-fluorine bonds gives PFASs high stability, which are characterized by persistence in the environment or degradation to other persistent PFASs. Thus, the environmental persistence of PFASs increases with the number of carbons contained in the molecule chain.
PFAS are used in large quantities in a variety of applications, and are now well known for their adverse effects on the environment and human health. As a result, PFAS contamination of water (groundwater, surface water and soil) is becoming a major concern. Indeed, once in contact with water, PFAS can be transported over very long distances, up to the oceans, and can accumulate in living organisms. PFAS are then identified in the food chain or mixed with drinking water.
Industrial use of PFAS
PFASs have been manufactured and used since the 1950s in many industries. It is estimated that approximately 230,000 tons of PFAS are newly introduced to the market worldwide each year (not including existing PFAS).
Various industrial sectors are impacted by the presence of PFAS, including
- Materials in contact with food (packaging, etc.)
- Building products
- Beauty products
- Medical equipment
- Oil and mining
- Fire fighting foams
Why is exposure to PFAS a concern?
Exposure to PFAS is a concern because they are considered hazardous to both human health and the environment. On the one hand, they can be harmful to the liver, child development, the immune system and they can also be carcinogenic. On the other hand, they are very polluting for the environment because of their persistence and their impact on living species (animal and plant).
What regulations for PFAS?
PFAS are regulated at several levels, including the following, impacting the use of these substances in Europe:
- At the international level through the Stockholm Convention;
- At the European level by the REACH regulation 1907/2006, the regulation in drinking water and the regulation in materials in contact with foodstuffs.
A more detailed explanation of the regulations can be found in our latest article on the banning of PFAS in fire fighting foams.
5 authorities propose to restrict PFAS
Over the past three years, national authorities in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have studied various PFAS, their uses and the risks they may pose to humans and the environment. The authorities have estimated that approximately 4.4 million tons of PFAS will end up in the environment over the next 30 years if no action is taken.
On January 13, 2023, these authorities submitted a proposal to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) to restrict more than 10,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
On 07 February 2023, the restriction proposal was made public on the ECHA website and a 6-month public consultation was launched on 22 March 2023.
The next steps that will follow are as follows:
- April 05, 2023: ECHA will hold an online information session in which it will explain the restriction process and how companies affected by the PFAS restriction proposal can participate in the public consultation.
- ECHA's Scientific Committees for Risk Assessment (RAC) and Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) will start the scientific evaluation of the restriction proposal.
- In 2024, the ECHA committees will publish their opinion.
- The European Commission's decision could be made public in 2025. It is estimated that the restriction would then be effective from 2026/2027, with temporary derogations that could range from a few years to a dozen years for certain sectors, according to the current text of the proposal.
Responses to the PFAS restriction proposal
- NGO ChemSec
On February 23, 2023, the NGO ChemSec shared a guide on PFASs following the proposed restriction. The purpose of the guide is to provide assistance to companies in identifying, communicating, using, finding alternatives to, and disposing of PFASs.
- New Zealand
The New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is in the consultation phase to eliminate the use of PFASs in cosmetics by December 31, 2025, in an effort to align with the banned and restricted ingredients in the European Union.
Since 2015, suppliers in Denmark are under the obligation to test water for 12 PFAS substances. On March 15, 2023, the Minister of the Environment proposed the amendment of the decree to add 10 new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Want to know more about PFAS?
For more information, please contact our experts!