For businesses using PFAS or manufacturing PFAS-containing products the restriction dossier is a double-edged sword. On the one hand the restriction will create scope to accelerate the development of new products and technologies. On the other hand, however, it is important for the restriction to be workable. According to Steven van de Broeck, who is director for REACH and Chemical policy at Cefic (the business association representing the European chemical industry), the restriction could limit the use of a number of chemicals that serve a purpose for society and are able to be manufactured and used in a responsible manner. In an interview, he shared the views from the European business community regarding the PFAS ban with us.

Steven van den Broeck, Cefic director for REACH and Chemical policy

Who are Cefic and what is Cefic’s role in the restriction procedure?

Cefic is the business association which represents the large, medium and small chemical companies that make up the European Chemical Industry. These companies provide 1.1 million jobs and account for approximately about 15% of the world’s chemicals production. Our role is to provide information and support to members in relation to European legislative procedures, including the restriction procedure. We offer companies and other stakeholders a forum they can use to discuss experiences and challenges, and above all, collaborate to find answers to the concerns of public authorities and society.

What is your opinion regarding the ban on PFAS for non-essential uses?

The term PFAS covers thousands of substances with a wide range of properties and applications. Under specific circumstances, some have adverse health effects. These require a discussion on whether they can continue to be used, as well as a review of what measures would reduce or even eliminate emissions. However, the picture becomes much more complex when we look at PFAS that do not carry health risks and are used in end products with unique properties that make them important for our society. Consider microchips for example. They are an essential component in all electronic devices and cannot be manufactured without PFAS.

Do businesses predominantly view the PFAS ban as a limitation, or can they also see opportunities?

It is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to this question. This will truly depend on the shape this restriction will take. The restriction could drive the development of new products and technologies and create opportunities in that respect. Conversely, we must have the opportunity to provide public bodies with the information and context needed to ensure the practicability of the restriction. Without this, the restriction will curtail the use of a number of chemicals that serve a purpose for society and are able to be manufactured and used in a responsible manner.

Could you share a few examples of key applications? Which of these should be excluded from the restriction in your opinion?

There is significant overlap between this question and the wider debate on essential use, which is a new concept for the regulation of chemicals in Europe introduced in the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. There is as yet no consensus on how this concept can be integrated in European legislation. Various aspects have already prompted discussions between parties involved: Who will decide what does and does not qualify as essential? How can we prevent exclusion of entire sectors – such as cosmetics and personal care products – on the basis that they are not deemed essential? How can this concept facilitate rather than hinder decision-making at EU level?

We have therefore issued a call to continue discussions with the European Commission, European Union national authorities, in society and across the manufacturing chain so we can develop a shared approach in respect of this concept. Cefic has already outlined a number of ideas on the way in which the concept of essential use could be effectively integrated in European legislation. One of these is the creation of an Essential Uses Committee, made up of representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, EU Member States, society and industry experts. This Committee would then be publicly accountable for taking decisions in relation to what uses are and are not essential for our society.

Cefic will only be in a position to make a call on what applications are important or essential once our society has established a shared vision on what is and isn’t essential and the manner in which this concept can be applied in practice. It is up to the companies in our manufacturing chain to indicate the sectors for which PFAS are indispensable and outline the consequences of banning specific applications. The ultimate decision will be taken in the political arena.

How are industrial parties preparing for a ban? Are there any frontrunners who will have a clear advantage once a ban comes in?

The chemical industry is an innovation-driven, high-tech sector where research and innovation expenditure is in excess of 9 billion EUR each year. Companies continually conduct research into alternatives that provide a competitive advantage by improving performance and increasing safety for people and planet. Companies manufacturing and using PFAS are no exception to this.

All discussions around substitutes and alternative technologies should consider the new concept of Safe and Sustainable-by-Design. The EU chemical industry sees Safe and Sustainable-by-Design as a process to accelerate widespread market uptake of alternative chemical products and technologies that deliver greater consumer confidence in their safety, environmental and societal benefits and advance the transition towards a circular economy and climate-neutral society. There is no universally accepted definition of a safe and sustainable by design chemical yet. The shape given to this definition will determine the success of the European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.

What is being done to engage parties across the chain in these preparations?

In March 2021 Cefic established a new Sector Group which is made up of manufacturers and users of PFAS. This group focuses on topics including the management of PFAS emissions and analytical methods for measuring PFAS, and will delve deeper into the life-cycle analyses of end products. The value chain will have a key role in managing PFAS-containing materials that have reached the end of their lives. We can only avoid the dispersal of PFAS in the environment by working with the value chain and this, without question, is our shared aim. The Sector Group is also committed to maintaining an open dialogue between members, the value chain and public bodies throughout the restriction procedure. It is our firm belief that this is the only way to arrive at a practicable restriction that addresses the concerns around PFAS whilst permitting the industry to take timely action.