New EU restriction can stop all manufacture and sale of PFAS
Annually, 75000 tonnes of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) end up in the environment in Europe. Textiles, fluorinated gases and medical devices account for a large part of the emissions. In the restriction proposal that was published on February 7, the Swedish Chemicals Agency and authorities in four other European countries propose that all manufacture and sale of PFAS will be prohibited. If PFAS are not limited, the annual emissions will instead increase.
- This is a historically extensive restriction proposal, says Director General of the Swedish Chemicals Agency Per Ängquist. It concerns more than 10000 substances that are used widely in society and many of which are proven to be harmful to both people and the environment. When the proposal goes through, it will lead to these emissions ending.
All PFASs in the scope of the proposal are extremely persistent in the environment. If their release is not minimised, humans, plants and animals will be increasingly exposed, and without a restriction, such levels will be reached that have negative effects on public health and the environment. The authorities estimate that around 4.4 million tonnes of PFASs would end up in the environment over the next 30 years unless action is taken.
Comprehensive study behind the proposal
As part of the several years long work to develop the proposal, a comprehensive study has been made on how much PFAS is manufactured and sold and which are the largest emission sectors. In the EU, emissions to the environment are estimated to be 75000 tonnes per year, and based on existing consumption patterns, they are expected to increase over time if nothing is done. The calculations do not include the emissions that occur in the waste stage, which means that the emissions to the environment are likely to be significantly higher.
PFAS are released throughout their life cycle, from their manufacture to their application in products, when the products are used and when they become waste. Fluorinated gases, which are used, among other things, for air conditioning, along with textiles and medical equipment, account for the largest emissions. Other significant areas of use are various types of packaging, the transport sector and construction products.
Certain areas of use receive time-limited derogations
The proposal has examined two different options to regulate PFAS. One option is to restrict all use of PFAS immediately after a transition period of 18 months. Over a 30-year period, the total emissions from all use would then be reduced by 95 percent. The other option is that certain specific uses receive time-limited derogations, for example protective clothing and medical devices where PFAS fulfils an important function and there are currently no alternatives to PFAS. The proposal that is now being put forward means that certain areas of use will receive time-limited derogations.
- This proposal means that several industries will have to adjust, but we are convinced that the costs resulting from continued emissions are even higher, says Per Ängquist.