Buyers must prepare for 'huge implications' of forever chemicals ban

13 February 2023

A proposed EU ban on the PFAS “forever chemicals” would impact broad swathes of industry and force manufacturers to spend significant time and resources to develop alternatives.

The proposal, put forward in January, would completely ban the use of over 10,000 types of PFAS chemicals, which are used in the manufacturing of products from semiconductors and medical devices to frying pans and coats. The proposal would also prevent these chemicals from themselves being manufactured.

These chemicals are pervasive because their strong chemical bonds mean they do not break down easily, making them vital to water-repellent objects. However, their long lifecycle means they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Some forever chemicals have been linked to cancer, organ damage, and deformities in babies.

Jonatan Kleimark, senior chemicals and business advisor at government-funded chemical advisory body ChemSec, told Supply Management: “If this ban goes through, there will be huge implications for supply chains. We use these chemicals in everything. There’s four or five years before the ban could come into effect. 

“Companies need to use that time to map their supply chain and find out how significantly they use them, then work to develop and implement alternatives.

“It will affect most industries in some way. A lot of research needs to be done. If you’re a downstream user of these chemicals, you need to make sure your supply chain knows about this, whether they use them, and what they are doing to find alternatives.”

The German Environment Agency (GEA), Germany’s central environmental authority, led the proposal, with support from authorities in Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

FluoroProducts and PFAS for Europe (FPP4EU), a sector group of the European Chemical Industry Council which represents producers, importers, and users of the chemicals, has welcomed the proposal but highlighted the need for exemptions on specific instances vital to society.

Jonathan Crozier, advocacy and communications chairman of FPP4EU, said: “FPP4EU’s main concern is that the restriction proposal may still lead to disruptions of certain value chains and eventually eliminate some key applications.

“We will continue facilitating information exchange with the affected downstream sectors to identify critical applications that would merit discussion about a derogation, or how much time it would take to develop alternatives, taking into account that these alternatives need to offer the same combination of properties without negative effects for human health and environment.”

The European Chemicals Agency, having received the proposal, is now in the process of checking if it meets the legal requirements for risk assessment and socio-economic analysis. If it does, a scientific committee will convene in March for a six-month evaluation.

The committee will decide whether the proposal reduces the risks to health and the environment, and what benefits and costs it will have to society. Their conclusions will be sent to the European Commission for consideration. 

A spokesperson for the GEA told SM: “Companies that substitute will face research and development costs in relation to the identification and testing of possible alternatives and product re-design. The most effective measure would be to not manufacture or use PFASs anymore.”

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