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Persistent Pollutants

EU proposal would ban 10,000 PFAS

Restrictions aim to reduce emissions to the environment and make products safer for people

by Britt E. Erickson
February 7, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 6

A happy kid with an umbrella and raincoat in the rain
Credit: Shutterstock
PFAS would be banned from use in consumer products such as raincoats under an EU proposal.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has unveiled a proposal that would ban the production, use, and sale of about 10,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the European Union. The proposed ban, which includes time-limited exemptions for some PFAS uses, aims to keep the persistent chemicals out of the environment and reduce human health risks.

ECHA received the proposal in January from five EU countries—the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. If adopted, it would apply to all 27 EU countries.

PFAS are widely used to repel grease, water, and dirt in consumer products such as raincoats, fast food wrappers, frying pans, and cosmetics. Under the proposal, such uses would be prohibited 18 months after the ban enters into force. PFAS-free alternatives are available for those uses, ECHA says. But when PFAS-free alternatives are not available, such as in machinery used by the food industry and implantable medical devices, exemptions of 5 to 12 years may apply.

The proposal, published Feb. 7, defines PFAS as “any substance that contains at least one fully fluorinated methyl (–CF3) or methylene (–CF2–) carbon atom (without any H/Cl/Br/I attached to it).” Restricting the entire class of PFAS “is the most appropriate and effective option to adequately control such a large and complex group of substances which are used in numerous applications,” the proposal states.

The chemical industry supports a narrower definition and argues that not all PFAS should be regulated the same way. In the US, regulators have taken a slower, substance-by-substance approach to regulating PFAS.

The EU proposal cites risks to the environment and human health if PFAS emissions continue unabated. The ECHA estimates that under a business-as-usual scenario, 4.4 million metric tons of PFAS would enter the environment over the next 30 years. PFAS persist in the environment for decades, and some of them are harmful to human health.

The ECHA plans to accept public comments on the proposal for 6 months, beginning March 22, and it will incorporate input from two scientific committees. The agency expects to have a final proposal ready for the European Commission to hold a vote by all EU countries in 2025. If passed, the ban would enter into force in 2026 or later.

“This landmark proposal by the five authorities supports the ambitions of the EU’s Chemicals Strategy and the Zero Pollution action plan. Now, our scientific committees will start their evaluation and opinion forming,” Peter van der Zandt, ECHA’s director for risk assessment, says in a statement. “While the evaluation of such a broad proposal with thousands of substances, and many uses, will be challenging, we are ready.”



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