Fluoropolymers and PFAS
Fluoropolymers and PFAS
The current ongoing focus of researchers and regulators into PFAS, which have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s because of their useful properties, has prompted concerns about the use and future of Fluoropolymers.
What are the proposed restrictions and when will they happen?
Authorities from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have submitted a regulatory dossier to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposing new restrictions aimed at significantly reducing the introduction of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into the environment. While the five-nation submission to ECHA was formally announced in January 2023, the scope and nature of the proposal were an open question until February 7, 2023, when the 211-page proposal was published to ECHA’s website. Key challenges raised by the chemicals industry included arguments that ECHA’s “one size fits all” treatment of thousands of PFAS as a single class is scientifically inaccurate and could undermine the use of PFAS in low-carbon energy technologies. The proposed ban remains subject to a scientific review and six-month consultation period (similar to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comment period for stakeholder input) to commence in March 2023. The proposed restrictions are not expected to become effective for at least three or four years.
PFOS and PFOA
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two of the most used chemicals in the PFAS group, however, due to widespread presence in the environment and ecosystem these are being phased out.
Fluorocarbon’s fluoropolymers contain no PFOS or PFOA chemicals.
There are around 10,000 known different chemicals that fit under the umbrella of PFAS and many fluorinated materials fall under the definition of PFAS, but not all have been shown to be harmful. Fluoropolymers are considered polymers of low concern (PLC) as they do not dissolve or contaminate water and are unable to enter or accumulate in a person’s bloodstream, therefore do not pose a significant risk to human health or the environment.
Alternatives to Fluoropolymers
There are currently no viable alternatives to fluoropolymers that provide the same unique properties required for many applications that make them so vital to the sectors and industries they serve and the world at large.
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states, “PFASs are a chemical class with diverse molecular structures and physical, chemical, and biological properties, and it is highly recommended that such diversity be properly recognized and communicated in a clear, specific and descriptive manner.”
What steps are we taking?
We actively maintain that fluoropolymers should be processed as responsibly as possible. We have removed the use of PFOA from our Fluoropolymer production processes entirely, eliminating risk and the use of hazardous materials and we save and send fluoropolymer waste material for recycling.
We are keeping abreast of the ongoing developments and engaging with our customers. Where possible we are talking with end users on alternatives, especially where there is a lengthy approval process that is required for a change in product material or design. We are guiding our customers to participate in the online survey. Lastly, we are on hand to try and answer any questions that our customers may have.
What steps can users take?
ECHA is acting on the principle “No data, no market.” Industry input and data–across the entire fluoropolymer value chain— are critical to support proposed and additional derogations, as well as in helping SEAC formulate an accurate opinion.
So if ECHA don’t get to hear about the potential loss of business and employment they will automatically ban the use in that market by not offering a time fixed derogation.
So, the most important part users can play is to comment on the ECHA website from the below link, which also contains some guidance: -