A combination of factors has created the perfect storm, spreading this chemical family in a totally uncontrolled way all over the globe, into all of us.
That’s why we now need to join forces and end the PFAS use.
An unforgettable scene from the film “Dark Waters” is when the PFAS manufacturer DuPont starts searching for clean blood samples without PFAS so that they can compare them to the blood of their Teflon factory workers. They found none.
They searched and tested blood from people living in the most remote places, far from PFAS production; still, they couldn’t find any clean blood without PFAS. If that doesn’t ring all the alarm bells, what does?
How did we end up here?
A combination of factors has created nothing but the perfect storm, spreading this chemical family in a totally uncontrolled way all over the globe, into all of us.
The chemical properties, the widespread use, the massive number of similar chemicals, the hard industry lobby, and the inefficient regulation. All of it combined led us here.
“Waste management of PFAS chemicals is the main challenge. Current wastewater treatment methods cannot degrade PFAS”
First of all, the common denominator for all PFAS chemicals is what makes them both very usable and very problematic. Persistence. The chemical bond between the flour and the carbon atoms is almost impossible to break. While withstanding degradation can be a desirable property in some products, it becomes very problematic elsewhere.
Waste management of PFAS chemicals is the main challenge. Current wastewater treatment methods cannot degrade PFAS, and even incineration often fails – hence the “forever chemicals” nickname. Once produced, never gone. The European Food Safety Agency has concluded that a significant part of the EU population is exposed to higher levels of PFAS via food and water than what can be considered safe.
In addition to persistence, different PFAS have additional useful properties. The list is very long, such as making surfaces water and oil resistant, which is very practical for several surfaces; rain clothes, tents and food packaging. And the ability to reduce friction is great in ski wax and bicycle oils and skin foundation …and, well, dental floss.
“The number of PFAS chemicals seems to be growing with every investigation”
In fact, when you start investigating this, you quickly uncover that PFAS are used in almost all types of products. And this is where you start wondering what desirable properties can outweigh the release of a persistent and toxic chemical. Here, “when is it justified to use very hazardous chemicals” is a related read.
Tweak PFAS and stay off the regulatory radar
In addition, there are endless possibilities to make small tweaks to the PFAS molecules and create “new” substances. As regulation of chemicals by default has been a chemical-by-chemical process, it has been easy to continue producing PFAS even when some have finally come under regulatory scrutiny.
The number of PFAS chemicals seems to be growing with every investigation. Depending on what you look for, from a couple of thousands to several million. Undoubtfully, to tackle PFAS, we need to do something very different.
Currently, only two specific PFAS chemicals are banned: PFOA and PFOS. But several different regulations are in the pipeline. Most important is the initiative by five EU member states to propose a general restriction of all PFAS in all products.
Unfortunately, the date for the proposal has been postponed, and there is an intense lobby from PFAS producers and industries that rely on its use, who are arguing for all the great benefits PFAS chemicals bring to our modern life. So there is a risk, as always, that regulation gets watered down with derogations and unprotective limit values.
Join the movement!
This is why you need to join the battle now, and why we need to join forces.
Every company that states a willingness to phase out PFAS, every product where PFAS is substituted, every new alternative being developed and every citizen asking for PFAS free products makes the difference.
Consumer brands, in particular, have a vital role to play here. At the end of the value chain, these companies stand nothing to gain – and all to lose – from having PFAS added to their products. Because it is still legal to use 99 percent of all PFAS chemicals, they currently lack the power to stop suppliers from adding them. In the world’s long, dwindling supply chains, it’s often even unclear where it is added and by whom.
But if they come together and collectively say no to PFAS, it becomes much harder to ignore this call, both for suppliers and the policymakers are pondering new legislation.
Therefore, ChemSec calls on all companies with a genuinely sustainable agenda to help us battle PFAS and join the PFAS Movement.