Are there alternatives to PFAS?
That decision-making around regulating PFAS is complex, was illustrated at the Chemical Watch PFAS Global Updates 2022 virtual conference on 7 September. Four members of the FPP4EU sector group presented case studies on PFAS, highlighting the difficulties of identifying functional alternatives.
Take Sorafenib, for instance. It’s active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) contains the PFAS fluorine, and plays a key role in modern day cancer therapy. It is unsure whether drugs would be exempt from a restriction, but currently fluorine falls withing the scope of the PFAS definition. A restriction would create a supply gap for cancer patients, given that a search for alternatives and authorisation processes can last up to 15 years.
The long process around finding alternatives, hasn’t stopped our members from taking on the challenge. So far, in most cases, the experience has been that there are performance trade-offs, leading to less durable or less safe products, higher maintenance costs and reduced resource efficiency. Without equal performance, substitution is not a solution. Until solutions are in place, a potential tool to assess where PFAS could be exempted from a ban, is our decision tree.
One example that has been considered as alternative, is the use of propane for refrigeration and heating applications. But it was discarded due to its high volatility and flammability. Where ammonia is used for industrial applications due to its competitive pricing, using it in supermarket refrigerators would pose too much of a risk, given that it is toxic and micro-flammable. To date, HFOs and HFCs are the only gases that provide non-flammability, non-toxicity, and mechanical and chemical safety.
The concept of essential use has not been defined, and will not be ahead of the upcoming restriction on PFAS. But it will continue to incentivise our industry to innovate and look for viable solutions.