The EU has decided to ban 200 PFAS substances in phases, starting February 2023. This is the first time the EU has imposed a ban on several chemicals of similar structure and properties all at once, which hopefully paves the way for more group bans.
The restriction follows on a proposal from the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) and the German Environment Agency (UBA) made back in 2017.
Although the actual ban only covers six long-chained PFAS chemicals (where the molecules consist of between 9 and 14 fluorinated carbon atoms), the number of PFAS being restricted is 200, since they can all be broken down into one of the banned six substances.
Short-chained PFAS need to be banned as well
ChemSec’s Senior Toxicologist Dr. Anna Lennquist is cautiously optimistic, even if she thinks this particular group ban leaves much to be desired:
“For years, we have argued that short-chained PFAS are also very problematic. While the long ones accumulate in animals and humans, the short ones are a big problem in water sources, as they cannot be captured, which means that we cannot purify water from short-chained PFAS.”
“We cannot purify water from short-chained PFAS”
PFAS chemicals are man-made substances, valued in various production industries for their ability to repel grease, water and dirt. The estimated number of PFAS chemicals in production seems to increase constantly and is now well above 5,000 substances with similar structure and properties.
The problem with all PFAS is that they break down extremely slowly – hence the nickname “forever chemicals”. They are also often toxic, linked to various cancers, infertility, lowered birth weights and negative effects on the immune system. A recent Swedish verdict classified high levels of PFAS as a personal injury, even if the person affected has not yet fallen ill.
Is this the beginning of the end for forever chemicals?
Another problem is that PFAS – with very few exceptions, up until this new group ban – has been perfectly legal to use. With substances being banned one at a time and the banning process being highly time consuming, it doesn’t take a lot of math skills to figure out that it would be virtually impossible to get rid of thousands of PFAS from production by banning them one by one. That is why this first PFAS group ban is so important.
“This restriction is a step in the right direction, but we are by no means finished”
On the downside, it seems that the 200 substances are not frequently used anyway.
In addition, the concentration-level limits are set so high that regulation – in most cases – allows continued production, as long as the restricted PFAS are only byproducts.
“The limit values are set high so that the industry should be able to meet them relatively easily. But the limits must definitely be lowered gradually, and – above all – we need more and broader PFAS bans. This restriction is a step in the right direction, but we are by no means finished”, says Dr. Anna Lennquist.
Visit the PFAS Movement for more information about “forever chemicals” and what we at ChemSec, along with our corporate allies, are doing to turn them into “never chemicals”.