EU Considers Banning Widely Used PFAS Chemicals

The European Union has started considering a ban on widely used but potentially hazardous substances known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals”. If finalized, the legislation will be the bloc’s most extensive piece of regulation of the chemical industry. The chemicals are used in tens of thousands of products, including textiles, cars, medical equipment and non-stick pans due to their long-term resistance to extreme heat and corrosion. But they have also been linked with health risks, including cancer, hormonal dysfunction and a weakened immune system, as well as environmental damage.

Five countries, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and non-EU country Norway, which have been cooperating on the proposal said in a joint statement that if passed, the legislation would be one of the largest bans on chemical substances in Europe.

“A ban on PFAS would reduce quantities of PFAS in the environment over the long term. It would also make products and processes safer for humans,” the statement added.

According to the proposal, if the ban comes into effect, the companies will be given between 18 months and 12 years to introduce alternatives to more than 10,000 PFAS, depending on the availability of alternatives.

Meanwhile, PFAS makers and users have formed a lobby subgroup under the European chemical makers’ association CEFIC. These companies include BASF, 3M, Bayer, Merck and Teflon maker Chemours.

“In many cases, no such alternatives currently exist, and in some they possibly never will,” the five countries said in their statement, urging companies to work on substitutes.

Waterproofing agents for textiles are among the easiest to replace, but no substitutes are currently available for use in some medical devices such as pace makers.

The substances are called “forever chemicals” because of their ability to accumulate in water and soils, as they do not decompose.

The Norwegian Environment Agency says the chemicals are now detectable across the globe from the Antarctic to the Arctic.

The FPP4EU group of 14 companies that make and use PFAS said the restrictions would have a “huge impact” on many products for daily use and that the association would flag the need for certain exemptions in the public consultations.

“FPP4EU’s main concern is that the restriction proposal may still lead to disruptions of certain value chains and eventually eliminate some key applications,” the group said.

The proposal exempts a certain number of pharmaceuticals, animal health products, crop protection chemicals and disinfectants, because they already fall under even stricter existing regulatory regimes.

Countries submitting the proposal said that once a ban is in place, accumulation in the environment will continue for many years because waste products would continue to shed the molecules.

Within the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), two scientific committees for Risk Assessment and for Socio-Economic Analysis will now review whether the proposal conforms with wider EU regulation of chemicals known as REACH, followed by a scientific evaluation and consultation with the industry. The agency said the evaluation could require longer than the usual 12 month period.

Afterwards, the European Commission and EU member states will decide on the final version, which may come into force in 2026 or 2027.

In other regions, initiatives to restrict PFAS are also underway. In August, the United States government said it will propose designating certain forever chemicals as hazardous substances under the U.S. Superfund programme.

Among corporate initiatives, U.S. industrial conglomerate 3M in December said it would stop producing them by 2025.

The overall annual health costs from exposure to PFAS in Europe has been estimated to be €52 billion-€84 billion.

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