Five EU national authorities call for PFAs ban under REACH

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs), largely used in non-stick and water-resistant items like cookware and clothing, but also found in beauty and personal care products, were being increasingly detected as environmental pollutants in groundwater and soil [Getty Images]
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs), largely used in non-stick and water-resistant items like cookware and clothing, but also found in beauty and personal care products, were being increasingly detected as environmental pollutants in groundwater and soil [Getty Images]

Related tags PFAS Chemicals Regulation REACH ECHA European commission CTPA Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability safety

Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have submitted a proposal to the European Chemicals Agency ECHA calling for a restriction on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) under the EU’s chemicals regulation REACH.

The detailed proposal, “one of the broadest in the EU’s history”,​ according to the agency, was due to be published in full by ECHA on February 7, 2023, addressing the entire group of PFAs substances.

ECHA’s scientific committees for Risk Assessment (RAC) and Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) would start scientific evaluation of the proposal with a six-month open consultation period from March 22, 2023.

PFAs, the environment and beauty

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)​ were a large class of thousands of synthetic chemicals used throughout society, largely in aerospace construction, the manufacture of non-stick and water-resistant items like cookware and clothing, and stain-resistant coatings on furniture and elsewhere.

Over the past decades, many global manufacturers had already started to replace certain PFAs with others or with fluorine-free substances, and some of these substances were also already subject to EU regulations and restrictions​. However, ECHA said these substances were increasingly being detected as environmental pollutants, with some linked to negative effects on human health.

PFAs all contained carbon-fluorine bonds, one of the strongest chemical bonds in organic chemistry, and thus resisted degradation when used or entering the environment, frequently contaminating groundwater, surface water and soil. The agency said if PFAs continued to be released, they would ultimately accumulate in the environment, drinking water and food.

Whilst PFAs were largely used elsewhere, they were found in cleaning products and personal care items, including shampoos, sunscreens, dental floss, shaving foam, nail polish and makeup. When added in intentionally, these substances were used to condition and smooth skin, create shine or influence product consistency and texture. But PFAs could also be found as a trace contaminants in beauty and personal care products.

Emma Meredith, director-general of the UK’s Cosmetic, Toiletry, Perfumery Association (CTPA), previously said PFAs were not widely used in cosmetics but regulation of this group of chemicals remained a concern for industry​.

Addressing attendees in 2021 at the annual SCS Formulate event in Coventry, UK, Meredith said PFAs were certainly a priority for UK REACH and there were concerns of a broad regulation setting a precedent for regulating groups of chemicals rather than individual chemicals. Should any restriction or ban be put in place, she said it ought to consider individual ingredients and not the entire group of chemicals.

In the same year, Kestutis Sadauskas, director for circular economy and green growth at the European Commission's Department of Environment (DG ENV), said PFAs were "one of the big priorities"​ at EU level​ under the European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, part of the European Commission's wider European Green Deal.

"These are forever chemicals; highly persistent, really functional, quite useful for society, but also a cause of enormous health and environmental damage around the world. In the future, they will only be allowed where use is really necessary,"​ Sadauskas said.

PFAs potential restriction – the timeline

ECHA said the five national authorities behind the PFAs restriction proposal had spent the past three years investigating different PFAs, their uses and the risks they might pose to people and the environment. The authorities had already held two public consultations to gather evidence on the use of these substances and examined all information received.

“The restriction proposal comes after the five authorities found risks in the manufacture, placement on the market and use of PFAs that are not adequately controlled and need to be addressed throughout the EU and the European Economic Area,” ​ECHA said.

Following the publication of the full proposal next month, once administrative checks had been completed by ECHA, the agency’s scientific committees RAC and SEAC would evaluate and consult everything, starting on March 22, 2023. There would then be an online information session held on April 5, 2023 to explain the restriction process and help those interested in participating in the consultation.

Under REACH, the opinions of RAC and SEAC should be ready within 12 months of the start of scientific evaluation, but ECHA said it could be longer for this proposal.

“In view of the complexity of the proposal and the extent of information that is expected from the consultation, the committees may need more time to finalise their opinions,” ​the agency said.

These opinions, once adopted, would be sent to the European Commission to decide on a potential restriction alongside EU Member States.

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