How is the EU making sure perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) don’t stick around?

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of synthetic chemicals that are widely used throughout society and thus found in the environment (groundwater, surface water, soil, and food). They are extensively used and popular because they have uniquely desirable properties: they are stable under intense heat and they can act as water and grease repellents, which makes them suitable for aviation, textile, aerospace, leather, and other industries. They are also found in some medical aids, electronics, household items, construction products etc.

As all PFAS contain carbon-fluorine bonds, one of the strongest chemical bonds in organic chemistry, they are known to persist in the environment longer than any other man-made substance. They end up in the environment directly and indirectly, from facilities using PFAS for production, during use of consumer products containing PFAS, and from PFAS-containing materials that are in contact with food. Humans can be exposed to them every day at home, in their workplace and through the environment.

Some PFAS have already been regulated globally by the Stockholm Convention for more than 10 years, and these include perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and its derivatives, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts, while perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and its salts are considered for inclusion in the Stockholm Convention.

The manufacture and use of some PFAS are already restricted under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), a regulation of the European Union, adopted to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.

Finally, a few PFAS already have a harmonised classification and labelling under the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), ammonium pentadecafluorooctanoate (APFO), perfluorononan-1-oic acid (PFNA) and its sodium and ammonium salts, nonadecafluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) and its sodium and ammonium salts.

For more information, an interview with the ECHA’s Executive Director Bjorn Hansen is available, but you can also read more on this topic and/or listen to the full podcast online.

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