Restrictions on PFAS Substances

Question: I've heard that substances like PFOA or PFHS are restricted, or may soon be restricted, in European and American markets. What are these substances, and what restrictions apply to them?

Answer: Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a group that includes a number of substances, including these:

  • PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid), also known as C8 PFAS molecules because they contain eight carbon atoms. PFOA & PFOS are restricted in the EU under the EU Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) regulation. They were originally restricted under REACH Annex XVII; the restriction was later transposed under EU POPs.
  • PFHA and PFH[x]S (perfluoroheptanoic acid and perfluorohexane sulfonate/perfluorohexane sulfonic acid), also known as C6 PFAS molecules because they contain six carbon atoms. PFHA and PFHS are not currently restricted.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) provides useful information about PFAS chemicals here.

The issues around PFOA restrictions in Europe are especially complex since the restricted "Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related compounds’' contains 171 separate chemicals according to the ECHA Information on chemicals substances infocard, and more could theoretically be identified in the future. PFOA was originally restricted under EU REACH, prior to the formal PFOA ruling in the global POPs (Stockholm Convention) review. The original EU REACH restriction Annex XV report only identified limited uses of PFOA, specifically textiles and electronics.

However, that EU REACH restriction was replaced by Commission Delegated Regulation 2020/784 which aligned to the global POPs ban and exemptions. Per that regulation:

  • PFOA has following allowed uses (with end dates), which may be applicable:
    • Photolithography or etch processes in semiconductor manufacturing, until 4 July 2025;
    • Photographic coatings applied to films, until 4 July 2025;
    • Textiles for oil- and water-repellency for the protection of workers from dangerous liquids that comprise risks to their health and safety, until 4 July 2023;
    • Manufacture of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) for the production of (until 4 July 2023):
      • High-performance, corrosion-resistant gas filter membranes, water filter membranes and membranes for medical textiles
      • Industrial waste heat exchanger equipment;
      • Industrial sealants capable of preventing leakage of volatile organic compounds and PM2.5 particulates;
    • Allowed in fire-fighting foam for liquid fuel vapour suppression and liquid fuel fire (Class B fires) already installed in systems, including both mobile and fixed systems, until 4 July 2025.
    • The use of perfluooroctyl bromide containing perfluoroctyl iodide for the purpose of producing pharmaceutical products shall be allowed, subject to review and assessment by the Commission by 31 December 2026.
    • Concentrations of PFOA and its salts equal to or below 1 mg/kg (0,0001 % by weight) where they are present in polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) micropowders produced by ionising irradiation of up to 400 kilograys or by thermal degradation as well as in mixtures and articles for industrial and professional uses containing PTFE micropowders. All emissions of PFOA during the manufacture and use of PTFE micropowders shall be avoided and, if not possible, reduced as far as possible. This exemption shall be reviewed and assessed by the Commission no later than 05 July 2022.

In the U.S., the EPA is planning to collect information for PFAS substances, including PFOA, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) article 8. This is not a restriction, but still significant and a move in that direction. Additionally, the Stockholm Convention added PFOA to the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in 2019 to be restricted globally (as of January 2022, restriction to 25 parts per billion). The US is a member of the Stockholm Convention, and is looking at the 'Dirty Dozen" which does not include PFOA at this time. However, research has indicated that while PFOA is no longer being used in manufacturing in the US, it could be brought in from other countries. Therefore, while PFOA has not been added as an officially restricted substance for the US, this may happen in the future. It could also be covered under PFAS for TSCA moving forward as well.

This article is current as of 2022-04-04.

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