The European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment develops international environmental policies. This scope also includes chemicals like PFAS. The directorate prepares legislation and also focuses on its implementation. Core to this is the REACH chemicals legislation. We spoke with Valentina Bertato about the role and ambitions of the Directorate-General for the Environment in relation to a ban on PFAS. ‘This is a complex and incredibly interesting and important topic and at the same time the largest dossier we have worked on to date.’

Valentina Bertato, policy officer, Sustainable Chemicals unit, DG Environment at the European Commission

‘This is not only a complex and highly interesting and important topic but also the largest dossier we have worked on to date.’

The ultimate aim is to introduce a total ban that includes a transitional period for some essential uses.


‘The ultimate aim is to introduce a total ban that includes a transitional period for some essential uses. This is the approach the European Commission has requested and we believe this is the way forward for substances of very high concern like PFAS.

The European Commission’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability aims to protect the environment and our health against pollution from chemical substances. PFAS are a special case in this regard. Clear actions have been defined, including a ban on all use of PFAS with exceptions for essential use. PFAS are already in our soil and water. This is another reason why we are arguing for PFAS to be specifically designated as a group and for limits to be introduced. If we don’t do this, the industrial sector will replace one PFAS with another. Furthermore, if we only set limits for known PFAS, we lack monitoring for new PFAS that might equally pose risks.


The restriction for PFAS represents the most comprehensive restriction proposal we have worked on thus far. We have already asked ECHA to prepare a restriction dossier in respect of fire-fighting foam, which also contains PFAS. Fire-fighting foam is the cause of a great deal of pollution and we need to move faster in our response to this. The significant amount of preparation undertaken in relation to the restriction of PFAS in fire-fighting foam could help to speed up the restriction procedure for all PFAS. We continue to liaise with Member States and government bodies who are preparing a restriction dossier for other applications of PFAS. We also attend specific meetings as this helps us to remain aware of questions that arise and avoid conflicts with other regulations. On top of this, we act as the link between the Member States and the other European Commission directorates focusing on these regulations.

Data collection

Data collection must be as comprehensive as possible to ensure the effectiveness of the restriction. A proper decision requires a well-founded dossier that covers all uses, estimates of emission values and possible alternatives. ECHA and the five countries have already issued a call for evidence, requesting information from businesses. There will also be a regular public consultation. (See also the timeline described elsewhere in this issue.)

However, a lack of reliable data might in some cases require us to make assumptions. An example is when businesses invoke confidentiality. This is why we apply modelling, for example in relation to the use of PFAS in a specific product and the amounts released into the environment at the end of the life of the product. It is important for industry to understand that a lack of data means we will have to make assumptions. A lack of data is no reason to halt the process.

Debate on essential use

The debate around what constitutes essential use is above all a political discussion. The concept of essential use was introduced as part of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and we now need to define governing criteria for this. This is being done in parallel with the PFAS dossier. We must communicate about this throughout the process to ensure we are all aligned. I am confident we can succeed in this. Determining what is and is not considered essential use requires politicians to consider human health as well as employment. Yes, jobs may be lost but the costs in terms of pollution run to billions. We must factor this in too. What’s more, the search for alternatives to PFAS will also create new jobs. 

Production in Europa

An overarching aim of both the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and industrial policy is to bring back production to Europe. This will not only create jobs but also increase the scope for control. By reducing the permitted levels of PFAS through REACH, we are able to prevent the import of PFAS-containing products into Europe. Europe is a large market. Let’s hope this method will be successful in compelling countries outside of the EU to adapt their manufacturing. 

Safety of new technologies

It is key that new technologies are also safe. Our hope is that industry will take lessons from years past. The restriction dossier will in any event include an evaluation of the safety of alternatives. Although the procedure cannot fully guarantee the safety of new substances and products, it does build in a check.