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In what could end up being the EU’s most comprehensive regulation of the chemical industry, the proposal to outlaw commonly used compounds known as PFAS or “forever chemicals” was first brought up for discussion on Tuesday.

Due to their long-term resistance to extreme temperatures and corrosion, the substances have been used in tens of thousands of products, including aircraft, cars, textiles, medical equipment, and wind turbines. However, PFAS have also been linked to health risks like cancer, hormonal dysfunction, a weakened immune system, and environmental damage. 

In a joint statement, the five nations that have been working on the proposal—Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and non-EU state Norway—stated that, if approved, it would constitute “one of the broadest bans on chemical chemicals ever in Europe.”

“A PFAS ban would, over time, lower the levels of PFAS in the environment. Additionally, it would make procedures and goods safer for people to use, they stated.

Depending on the applicability and availability of alternatives, companies will be permitted between 18 months and 12 years to introduce substitute ingredients.

Manufacturers and consumers of PFAS, including BASF, 3M, Bayer, Solvay, Merck KGaA, and Synthomer, have created a lobbying subgroup under the European Chemical Makers’ Association CEFIC. 

According to the five countries’ statement, “in many circumstances, no such alternatives currently exist, and in some, it’s possible they never will,” therefore businesses must now start looking for alternatives.

The term “forever chemicals” refers to substances that are able to build up in water and soil because they do not breakdown due to an incredibly strong link between the carbon and fluorine atoms that make them up.

Years will probably pass before the prohibition becomes operative.

Two scientific committees within the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the Risk Assessment (RAC) and Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) committees, will now examine whether the proposal complies with broader EU chemical regulation known as REACH. This will be followed by a scientific evaluation and industry consultation.

The two committees may require more time than the customary 12 months to complete their evaluation, according to ECHA. After that, any potential limitations will be decided by the European Commission and EU member states.

Initiatives to limit PFAS are also in progress in other areas. The US industrial company 3M Co. established a 2025 timeline for ceasing production in December.

The attorney general of California sued a number of businesses in November, including 3M and DuPont de Nemours Inc., to recoup clean-up expenses.

Shareholders have also demanded a halt to chemical manufacture. Earlier this year, 54 corporations received letters from investors controlling $8 trillion in assets pleading with them to stop using them.

The US government announced in August that it will propose classifying several chemicals as dangerous substances under the US Superfund programme.

According to DuPont, it will only utilise PFAS in “critical industrial applications” and will work with clients to find alternatives.

According to the draught, between 140,000 and 310,000 tonnes of PFASs were marketed in European markets in 2020, and the total yearly health expenses associated with PFAS exposure in Europe have been projected to be between 52 billion and 84 billion euros ($55.72 billion and $90.01 billion).