23 Jun 2022

Understanding the wide PFAS restriction

“The restriction is on its way, so be prepared” said Martijn Beekman, Project Manager PFAS REACH, of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) at the FPP4EU event “Understanding the wide PFAS restriction on 15 June 2022. His advice to industry is not to sit back and wait, but to already start looking into alternatives to PFAS. The wide EU restriction is foreseen for January 2023; “there will be no further delays, the pressure is high” he continued. 

How will PFAS be regulated? 

EU Green Deal 

The European Green Deal mentions the need to act on very persistent chemicals. The group of PFAS is considered to fall into that category. Four strategies under the Green Deal will lead to actions: The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS), the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Zero-Pollution Action Plan, and the Soil Strategy.  

“There are many cases of PFAS contamination in soil and drinking water, which may have potential health effects and are difficult and expensive to de-contaminate”, said Valentina Bertato, Policy Officer - Safe and Sustainable Chemicals, DG Environment, explaining why PFAS have a special mention in the CSS. “We need to phase out the use of PFAS unless proven essential for society”, she continued. 

Wide PFAS restriction 

“There is a problem with PFAS in the environment, and we need to solve it” agreed Beekman “The aim is to protect citizens”. The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are proposing a wide PFAS Restriction according to the existing REACH article 69.5, given that essential use criteria will not yet be defined under CSS by January 2023. In scope are all PFAS according to the OECD definition, for which the common concern is persistency. The chemical itself, its full production cycle, as well as the use phase are taken into account. The 5 countries are trying to cover all uses, except firefighting foams which was already covered by ECHA. They acknowledge that they may still miss some uses, so ask industry to participate in future consultations to flag those. If a use is not mentioned, it will be automatically prohibited under the proposed restriction. The expectation is that the legislation would be in place by 2025. 

Current legislation 

Peter Simpson, Senior Scientific Officer – ECHA, clarified that some PFAS are already subject to restrictions on manufacture and use under REACH, some are identified as substances of very high concern, and others are undergoing REACH substance evaluation. He justified grouping all PFAS together with the so-called ‘arrowhead approach’. Arrowheads are ‘terminal’ degradation products with hazardous properties. The assumption is that all PFAS, including precursors, will transform into the hazardous arrowhead. According to Simpson “A single restriction can cover many different substances as long as they can transform into the arrowhead”. 

The industry is taking a solution-oriented approach 

FPP4EU is actively seeking to engage with stakeholders. “Collaboration is central to our approach: collaboration with EU policymakers and downstream users to identify and close data gaps, to gain an understanding of where PFAS are used, and how pivotal PFAS are to those applications,” said Dietrich Sinnaeve, Chairman of the FPP4EU Sector Group.  

FPP4EU members have an ongoing commitment to meet or exceed all applicable health, safety, and environmental regulations and standards, yet “It is not clear which alternatives are out there today. Looking for these alternatives will take a considerable amount of time, and may in some cases not even be possible”, Sinnaeve added. Examples where alternatives prove difficult include, but are not limited to, heat pumps and electronics. 

To provide a potential solution to how PFAS could be assessed in view of the wide EU restriction, the FPP4EU group developed a decision tree. Two conclusions led to the proposed tree: Grouping in chemical classes does not help, and science-based classes of PFAS with similar (eco-)toxicological properties are too complex to define. The tree identifies potential areas for exemptions to the grouping based on 4 steps: PFAS definition, overlap with other legislation, industrial vs consumer use, and risk vs vital use for society. “We do not claim to have all the answers. We all benefit from the most optimal, implementable and enforceable regulatory measures on PFAS that address societal concerns whilst ensuring that safe and critical applications remain available for Europe’s future. We are ready to work with you on this and gladly welcome your input” concluded Marleen Pauwels, Executive Director Halogens Industry Sector at Cefic. 

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