PFAS restrictions – can they be implemented without stifling European industry?

16 May 2024

Our PFAS webinar yesterday provided a...

Our PFAS webinar yesterday provided a forum for information sharing and discussion on a key issue facing Europe’s technology industries. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of synthetic chemical compounds that are crucial to many industrial processes. However, some PFAS could pose certain risks for human health and the environment. Due to this, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been evaluating the possibilities of restricting PFAS in Europe.

The webinar was moderated by Daniel Wennick, Policy Director at Orgalim.

During our webinar, our first speaker, a representative from the European Commission, outlined the actions that have already been taken on PFAS in the EU. He also reminded attendees of the need for balance, saying, “PFAS have serious health and environmental concerns but they are also critical for the twin green and digital transitions.”

Attendees then heard the opinion of industry thanks to Arthur Vandenberghe, Sustainability Policy Officer, FIM and Chair of Orgalim Chemicals Task Force and Kirsten Metz, Senior Manager Chemicals and Environmental Policy, ZVEI and Vice-Chair of Orgalim Chemicals Task Force.

They outlined the elements of the restriction that Orgalim supports, which areas concern us and our recommendations.

Metz began by saying, “PFAS applications that have caused environmental problems, and where suitable alternatives exist, shall be controlled.”

However, she also highlighted that there are many applications where the use of PFAS is critical. “The Green Deal will be hampered if the use of PFAS does not remain possible where there are no substitutes available at full scale.”

Vandenberghe shared some of Orgalim’s recommendations, informing webinar attendees that, “A risk-based and substance-based approach should be used for the PFAS restriction proposal.”

After that, Dr Ulrich Hutschek, on behalf of VDMA, discussed research that is being conducted into possible PFAS substitutions, including describing how they organised their project.

"We pinned down the applications that would be most affected by a PFAS ban and then looked at what qualities PFAS provides."

This kind of information will be important in finding alternatives to PFAS that are effective.

Finding substitutions can, however, be a complicated process, as shown by Holger Sack, Head of Product Compliance & Safety, Vega on behalf of ZVEI. Sack updated attendees on research into PFAS substitutions in the process automation, monitoring and control sector and explained what qualities are needed, which range from extreme temperature performance to water and UV resistance, and can make finding a suitable replacement difficult.

We then heard from our last speaker on graphite as a PFAS alternative in the mechanical sealing industry, its pros and cons and how needs differ for static and dynamic seals. “It is non-toxic but it does not maintain its shape under very high pressure and is weak at low temperatures.”

You can watch a full recording of the webinar below or on our YouTube channel.

Our experts have been analysing the proposed PFAS restrictions and they have produced a document that outlines Orgalim’s views, recommendations and concerns (PDF), access them here and download the webinar slides here.