6 APRIL 2023
Webinar “PFAS Restriction & consistency between EU policies”
EU Focus Group & Fieldfisher, founding members of the Helix Team which also gathers SCC gmbh (Science) and RPA Ltd (socio-economic aspects) are pleased to share their initial views on the published PFAS restriction.
- Opening by Mr. Erik Haverkort, Dutch Member of Parliament (VVD). Member of the committee on water & infrastructure and of the committee on Agriculture.
- Introductory statement and Moderation by Mr. Pascal Michaux, Managing Partner at EU Focus Group
- Mr. Claudio Mereu, Co-Managing Partner Fieldfisher: The Restriction & the legal methodological flaws
- Mr. Thomas Roth, SCC Gmbh Head of Toxicology: Insufficient evaluation of the uses of the specific PFAS substances and resulting emissions or exposure.
- Mr. Pavel Glukhov, Partner EU Focus Group, INSEAD MBA: The potential socio-economic impact in case of a restriction of PFAS
Main takeways from the webinar:
- The proposed PFAS restriction under REACH is unprecedented in scope and has several flaws, including legal, scientific and procedural weaknesses.
- The potential socio-economic impact of a restriction on PFAS must be carefully considered, including the impact on the downstream supply chain and job losses.
- Fluoropolymers are essential for many sectors and industries, and their unique combination of properties make them critical to modern life and should be derogated broadly.
- The durability of fluoropolymer is the defining property for ensuring an extend service life and unless substances are not toxic, persistency alone does not warrant a restriction.
- Consistent standards are required across the EU to ensure a level playing field and mitigate potential emissions at the site level. Dialogue and collaboration between all stakeholders of the value chain is key to addressing potential risks at every stage of the manufacturing of PFAS.
- Sustainable manufacturing with minimal emissions of PFAS is a real possibility as shown by the (fluoropolymer) construction site from Chemours at Dordrecht.
Pascal Michaux welcomed the audience and introduced the process of the ongoing PFAS REACH Restriction. Highlighting the societal needs of PFAS and the unprecedented Restriction in terms of scope and the questionable approach to group more than 10.000 substances together. The proposal to restrict PFAS has several weaknesses, several on the legal side, but also on procedural and the agenda of ‘Better Regulation’.
A regulation in form of a restriction should be pursued only when there is no better alternative. Manufacturing of fluoropolymers with minimal emissions is possible if accompanied by strict observation of permits through the installation of (costly) abatement technologies. A dialogue between all involved stakeholders and a clear commitment by the entire value chain is needed to address potential risks at every stage of the manufacturing of PFAS.
Mr. Erik Haverkort emphasized the importance of sustainable manufacturing, the ongoing PFAS restriction, and the need for collaboration between politicians and the industry to establish strict emissions standards. He also stressed the adoption of safer alternatives and innovative remediation methods to clean up polluted areas. Mr. Haverkort recommended a restriction on only non-essential PFAS and that from a sustainable point of view certain persistent PFAS through their persistency ensure a long service life, and unless they are toxic should not be restricted. For the way forward he suggested three key behaviors by the involved stakeholders: recognizing that pollution is unacceptable, engaging in dialogue with experts, and investing in superior technology to create cleaner production methods. To ensure a level playing field, consistent standards are required across the EU.
To mitigate potential emissions at the site level, he cited the example of Chemours’ Dordrecht site, which he recently visited in his official capacity, and was impressed that emissions to air and water within the strictest standards in Europe could be avoided. He referred to Chemours as a “cleaning company” because the water emitted after use had less PFAS than the water coming from the river. While sustainable manufacturing is achievable, it must be harmonized and enforced across Europe to create a level playing field. The industry may require additional support to ensure long-term positive business cases, and Mr. Haverkort invited relevant Ministries in the Netherlands to push for a European solution.
Mr. Claudio Mereu outlined in his legal review that the proposed restriction of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the EU is flawed in several ways. The proposed criteria for restriction based solely on persistency are not supported by scientific evidence, and the grouping approach, which combines persistency and structural similarity, fails to adequately evaluate potential risks. Furthermore, due to the lack of data for many substances and the absence of a defined essential use at the European level, the proposed restriction is inadequate. There are also concerns regarding the impact on imports and the potential overlap with other legislation, which renders the proposed restriction incomplete and unsuitable for legal validity.
When it comes to PFAS, conventional quantitative risk assessment is not reliable, as this group of substances cannot be viewed as a single entity. PFAS possess unique physical, chemical, toxicological, and eco-toxicological properties, which make the one-size-fits-all approach of the proposed restriction scientifically unsound. Fluoropolymers, which are essential for many sectors, do not pose a threat to human health or the environment, and their emissions can be controlled through the use of best available abatement technologies. Existing regulations can safely address potential risks on fluoropolymers F-gases, addressing it throughout its life cycle . The goal is to reduce emissions to an insignificant level during the restriction process while taking necessary measures to address the manufacturing phase, use, and end-of-life of the substances. Essential PFAS should remain available, while those posing higher risks should be restricted.
Mr. Thomas Roth discussed the grouping of PFAS, which is based on chemical structure and persistency but does not apply to all PFAS. As PFAS are considered by the dossier submitters as non-threshold substances, risk assessment methods are not applicable, and their release is used as a proxy for risk. Thomas argued that the “one fits all” approach is flawed since PFAS have distinct properties. For example, some PFAS are highly volatile, while others are not. Some are water-soluble, while others are not. The proposal raises concerns about emissions during manufacturing and processing, microplastic formation, and emissions at the end of life.
Fluoropolymers are essential for many sectors, and the restriction proposal includes a restriction for all fluoropolymers, except for a few limited exceptions. The concerns include human health and environmental risks, possible microplastic formation, and emissions at the end of life. Thomas emphasized responsible manufacturing to minimize emissions, especially for fluorinated polymerization aids, which can lead to emissions. The proposal only contains derogations for polymerization aids in the production of polymers, but not for PTFE, PVDF, and FKM. However, using non-fluorinated aids can lead to low molecular weight PFAS byproducts in the polymers. He argued that emission minimization through the use of the best available abatement technologies is essential, rather than simply substituting fluorinated polymerization aids with non-fluorinated ones, where the formation of PFAS byproducts could be of concern, if not detected.
Mr. Pavel Glukhov highlighted the socio economic analysis of critical PFAS from the Fluoropolymer and F-Gas classes. Alternatives are required to be both technically and economically feasible, otherwise they are rejected. Making the reference to other cases, RAC in their risk and assessment and SEAC in their socio-economic assessment may come to a different conclusion, requiring a review by the Commission and subsequent reevaluation of the overall approach to restrict the substances, by proposing alternative regulatory measures.
Fluoropolymers perform in extreme corrosive and high-temperature environments, and meet specific requirements to withstand extreme environments. Fluoropolymer’s unique chemical property is, therefore, their stability, mechanical strength, inertness, thermal stability and resistance to chemical, biological and physical degradation. That translates into weather resistance, temperature resistance, chemical resistance, non-wetting and non-sticking properties and high-performance dielectric properties. Fluoropolymers’ unique combination of properties make them critical to modern life and a wide variety of sectors and industries including the Green Economy.
In semiconductors, the socio-economic importance of PFA was assessed. PFA being the substance of necessity for reasons outlined above and the clear lack of alternatives such as metals, PP, PVC, CPVC and PEEK, as they don’t meet the required purity and performance standards have been rejected as it would throw back the performance by decades. The economic benefits are manifold. Direct profits are at around 63 billion Euro and 21,000 jobs in the EU, are dwarfed by the indirect benefits of semiconductors in the automotive sector accounting for more than 1.14 million jobs. A potential restriction of PFA, among other fluoropolymers, would lead to a collapse in the downstream semiconductor supply chain, causing businesses to either shut down or relocate outside of Europe. Additionally, the supply chain would increasingly face disruptions since it is completely reliant on chip imports, a key issues being addressed by the EU Chips Act.
In Proton exchange membranes, PTFE is used in the membranes due to their high properties. However, at present, there are no viable alternatives to fluoropolymer PEMs that can meet the required performance standards of PTFE and most of the alternatives are technically not feasible due to size constrains and energy efficiency. The economic contribution is currently expected for around 1.5 billion Euro; however, this figure is set to increase depending on the adoption of (green) hydrogen. Without access to PEM technology, the EU will become more dependent on fossil fuels in the future, and several EU policies related to the decarbonisation of transport would not be achieved.
F-gases are widely used in heating, cooling, and insulation applications across various sectors, including automotive, commercial refrigeration, and building insulation. F-gases, such as 1234yf and 1336mzz, play a key role in various EU initiatives, including the Circular Economy Action Plan, REpower EU, Fit-for-55, and the EU Green Deal. The SEA assessment for F-Gases in automotive and foam applications shows that a continued use scenario of F-gases would contribute €180 billion to the European economy and create over 1.2 million jobs in the EU. However, banning the three HFOs proposed in Annex XV would result in a significant setback, with the economy losing at least €100 billion and up to 700,000 jobs. These F-gases play a key role in achieving EU Green Deal initiatives, and without them, it would be challenging to decarbonize EU buildings by 2050 or meet regulatory and logistical requirements for cold chain transport and energy-efficient appliances.