PFAS is the umbrella term for a group of several thousand individual chemicals. Their defining characteristics are a high degree of stability and water-, dirt- and fat-repellent qualities. Due to their unique properties, PFAS are found in a very wide range of products, such as outdoor clothing, kitchenware, dirt-repellent carpets and food packaging. They are also used in many industrial processes. The downside of the use of PFAS on such a colossal scale is that these chemicals are so stable that they persist in the environment for a long time and can accumulate in food chains. PFAS have been detected across the globe in water bodies, air and soil. They can also occur in human blood serum and have an impact on health.
The options for avoiding PFAS are currently very limited. When it comes to clothing such as outdoor jackets, products advertised as PFAS-free are already available. An iron or enamel frying pan can be used in place of a non-stick one. Such pans will even last longer because they are scratch-resistant. And reusable kitchenware made of glass or porcelain is in any case better for the environment than single-use paper cups. Natural fats and waxes can also be used as impregnating agents in place of PFAS-based sprays; with carpets, the natural dirt-repellent properties of wool make it a perfectly good substitute for PFAS coatings.
The proposal for the restriction of PFAS submitted by the European agencies was drafted under the terms of REACH, the EU regulation for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. Due to the hitherto uncontrolled risks associated with the manufacture, placing on the market and use of PFAS, a measure is required for the whole EU and the European Economic Area. In the last three years, the agencies from the five countries have carried out a detailed investigation of the PFAS, their use and the risks they pose to human health and the environment. In the context of this investigation, two public consultations were held to obtain information from the industry concerning the use of the substances.
The representatives of the agencies involved are planning to hold a press conference on the day of publication at which the content of the restriction proposal will be presented.
In their meetings in March 2023, ECHA’s scientific committees for risk assessment (RAC) and socioeconomic analysis (SEAC) will in the first instance consult on whether the restriction proposal satisfies the legal requirements set out in REACH. The committees will then begin the scientific review of the proposal.
A six-month public consultation is expected to begin on 22 March 2023. An online information event for interested parties is scheduled to take place on 5 April 2023. At this event, the restriction process will be explained, and help provided on how to participate in the consultation.
According to the REACH regulation, the submissions of RAC and SEAC should be finalised within 12 months. Given the complexity and scope of the restriction proposal, this will represent a major challenge for the committees. As soon as the submissions have been presented, the European Commission and the EU Member States will make a joint decision on a potential restriction.