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European Union considers ban on “eternal chemicals” and urges search for alternatives

European Union considers ban on “eternal chemicals” and urges search for alternatives

The European Union on Tuesday began considering a proposal to ban widely used and potentially harmful substances known as PFAS, or “eternal chemicals”, in what could become the bloc’s most extensive regulation for the chemical industry.

PFAS are used in tens of thousands of products including cars, textiles, medical equipment, wind generators and non-stick cookware due to their long-term existence at extreme temperatures and corrosion.

But PFAS have also been linked to health risks such as cancer, hormone dysfunction and a weakened immune system, as well as environmental damage.

The five countries that have collaborated on the proposal – Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and non-EU Norway – said in a joint statement on Tuesday that, if passed, the law would become “one of the biggest bans on chemical substances in Europe”.

Once the ban takes effect, companies will have between 18 months and 12 years to come up with alternatives to more than 10,000 PFAS chemicals, depending on the availability of alternatives, according to the draft proposal.

“In many cases, these alternatives do not currently exist, and in some, possibly never will,” the five countries said in the statement, urging companies to work on replacements.

Waterproofing agents for textiles are among the easiest to replace, for example with paraffin wax, but there are currently no substitutes available for use in some medical devices such as pacemakers, a dossier prepared by countries showed.

The nickname “eternal chemicals” derives from their ability to accumulate in water and soil because they do not break down as a result of an extremely strong bond between carbon and fluorine atoms.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Audun Heggelund of the Norwegian Environment Agency said that PFAS are now detectable worldwide.

“You can find PFAS in penguins in Antarctica, in polar bears in the Arctic, even in rainwater in Tibet,” he added.

The FPP4EU group, which brings together 14 companies that make and use PFAS, said the restrictions will have a “huge impact” on many everyday products and that the association will signal the need for certain exemptions.

“FPP4EU’s main concern is that the proposed restriction could still lead to disruptions of certain value chains and eventually eliminate some important applications,” said Jonathan Crozier, president of the group.

difficult process

BEUC, the European association of national consumer protection agencies, said in a statement: “We call on the EU to proceed as quickly as possible with this restriction.”

Within the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), two scientific committees for risk assessment and for socio-economic analysis will now review whether the proposal complies with the wider EU regulation on chemicals, known as REACH, followed by a scientific evaluation. and consultation with industry.

ECHA said that the two committees may need more than the usual 12 months to complete their assessment.

Subsequently, the European Commission and EU member states will decide on the final version of the restrictions, which could come into force in 2026 or 2027.

Among corporate initiatives, US industrial conglomerate 3M set a deadline in December to stop producing PFAS in 2025.

Investors managing $8 trillion in assets in December wrote a letter to 54 companies calling for the phase-out of PFAS.

Annual healthcare costs from exposure to PFAS in Europe were estimated at €52 billion to €84 billion, according to the restrictions draft.

Source: CNN Brasil