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Controversy Over PFAS and PFOA Chemicals Continue

As both the United States and the European Union consider further restrictions on perfluroalkyl sulfonate (PFAS) chemicals and perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts, controversy among scientists and industry continue about how best to regulate these categories of chemicals.  In “The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs),” issued in October 2014 at the Dioxin Symposium in Madrid and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the scientist signatories urge international co-operation among scientists, government and industry to limit the production and use of such chemicals, to develop further information about their toxicity and to develop safer, non-fluorinated alternatives.  In May 2015, FluoroCouncil, representing key companies that manufacture, formulate or process fluorotechnology products,published its counter-argument, “Fluorotechnology Is Critical to Modern Life: The FluoroCouncil Counterpoint to the Madrid Statement.”

Modern life relies heavily on the use of fluorochemicals due to their enhancement of functionality and durability of products ranging from airplanes, to automobiles, and cell phones. This category of chemicals, for which there is no feasible alternative in many applications, is critical for semiconductor device manufacture, the disruption of which would have expansive and detrimental ripple effects across the U.S. and global product manufacturing. PFASs are designed for specific end uses, and therefore not all PFAS chemistry is the same. Although FluoroCouncil member companies do not participate in all these chemistries, they have expertise in two types that are central to everyday life: fluoropolymers and fluorotelomers. Fluoropolymers have an unparalleled thermal and chemical stability and therefore chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers rely on it for things such as linings for pipes, valves, and tanks as well as use in aircraft, trucks, buses, and cars. In addition, they have dielectric properties that allow for highspeed data transfer in wireless communications for smart phones and other devices. Fluorotelomer-based polymers provide protective surface finishes for textiles such as surgical gowns and drapes that shield against fluidborne pathogens as well as use as firefighting foams.

In 2006, FluoroCouncil member companies committed to a phase-out of long-chain PFAS and related plant emissions by the end of 2015. This program, known as the U.S. EPA 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program, has led to significant reductions in environmental emissions. In order to further diminish potentially detrimental effects of PFASs, FluoroCouncil members began switching from long-chain to short-chain PFASs.  However, the Madrid Statement scientist signatories say this is not the answer. “While some shorter-chain fluorinated alternatives seem to be less bioaccumulative, they are still as environmentally persistent as long-chain substances or have persistent degradation products,” says the Madrid statement. “Thus, a switch to short-chain and other fluorinated alternatives may not reduce the amounts of PFASs in the environment. In addition, because some of the shorter-chain PFASs are less effective, larger quantities may be needed to provide the same performance.”

In the U.S., the EPA has published a proposed Significant New Use Rule, with a June 26, 2015 comment deadline, that would restrict the manufacture, importation and processing of long chain perfluroalkyl carboxylate and perfluroalkyl sulfonate chemicals. A key premise of the proposed SNUR is that use of these chemicals is diminishing.  However, numerous commenters already have alerted EPA that there is significant ongoing use of these chemicals in critical industrial applications.  It remains to be seen whether or how EPA will proceed with this proposed regulation.

 

Ann Grimaldi

About Ann Grimaldi

Ms. Grimaldi maintains a diverse environmental law practice focusing on chemical and product regulation and litigation defense. Her practice areas include Proposition 65, California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Act and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Ms. Grimaldi graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law magna cum laude and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bacteriology from University of California, Davis. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a research assistant in laboratories at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute and at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

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