Why is the Netherlands working with other countries on a proposal to restrict PFAS?
The Netherlands is working with Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden on a proposal for a European ban on PFAS. A ban in this context is also referred to as a restriction. The countries are proposing this restriction to limit the risks that these substances pose to people and the environment. The restriction proposal covers a high number of substances and concerns non-essential uses. The participating countries are therefore also working together to divide the workload.
What does the Netherlands want to achieve with the restriction proposal?
The Netherlands wants to restrict the use of PFAS to limit the risks that these substances pose to people and the environment. The government wants to prevent risks by implementing source policy. In order to reduce the risks that the substances pose to people and the environment, it is necessary to address the very large PFAS category as a single group and to deal with PFAS uniformly throughout Europe. By doing so, the member states want to avoid one harmful PFAS being replaced by another.
What is a restriction proposal and who decides if this ban will be instituted?
If Member States, the European Commission or ECHA European Chemicals Agency consider that chemical substances pose an unacceptable risk to humans and/or the environment, they can propose a restriction of those substances. This is done by submitting a restriction dossier to ECHA. The dossier compiles a large quantity of information –in this case, information on risks and uses of PFAS. In that context, the impact of a restriction on society is also examined, as well as whether alternatives to PFAS are available. In the end, the member states of the European Union will decide whether a restriction should be introduced and in what form. More information about the process and decision-making procedures can be found under the question 'What has to happen before this restriction is in place?'
Why was the initiative for this restriction not being taken earlier? We have known for years that PFAS are harmful, right?
Some PFAS are known to be harmful. However, there is also a great deal that we do not yet know about PFAS. After policies were formulated to restrict the use of PFOS perfluorooctane sulfonates and PFOA perfluoro octanoic acid, it became clear that other PFAS substances were being used as substitutes for these substances, for example in the new GenX technology. That is why the Netherlands is now working with other countries in Europe to limit the application of the entire group of PFAS substances.
What has to happen before this restriction is in place?
It is a meticulous process in which all scientific information and information from manufacturers and users is studied. The European REACH Regulation describes exactly how a dossier for a restriction proposal must be prepared and submitted. Subsequently, two European scientific committees (RAC Risk Assessment Committee and SEAC Socio-Economic Assessment Committee) will have a close look at the restriction proposal in order to check that it is scientifically sound. There is also a public consultation in which stakeholders are asked to provide additional information. It is then examined whether the restriction proposal is enforceable in practice (by Inspectorates, for example). On the basis of the restriction proposal and the opinions provided by the RAC and SEAC, the European Commission makes a proposal. In the REACH Committee, the proposal is submitted to the member states for a vote. The restriction may be a ban or other type of limitations on production and use.
More information about the process can be found on the ECHA website.
What are PFAS used for and why?
PFAS is a collective name and stands for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. This group of chemical substances is man-made and does not naturally occur in the environment. PFAS have useful properties: they are water, grease, dirt and dust repellent. They are heat-resistant and are not easily damaged by other chemical substances. PFAS can also be used to help distribute the flow of liquids. This means that fire extinguishing foam, for example, will spread quickly over a burning surface. Manufacturers use PFAS e.g. when making rainwear, outdoor sports apparel and skiwear. They are also used to make pans that have a non-stick coating and to make paper water- and grease-repellent, such as the paper used in baking parchment and pizza boxes.
Are PFAS released from materials made or treated with PFAS? And if not, why ban PFAS?
During normal use, products that contain PFAS are safe. Safe means that no harmful health effects are expected from the use of products (which contain chemical substances). It is possible that PFAS could be released in very small quantities, for example due to wear and tear. The quantities that enter your body from consumer products are generally very small. However, there is a chance that PFAS will end up in the environment during PFAS manufacturing or from waste products. PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’: they do not decompose, so in time they could accumulate to harmful levels. The Netherlands and other countries in Europe believe that minimum levels of PFAS should end up in the human environment. That is why a restriction proposal is now being developed.
Which PFAS and which different applications will be included in the restriction proposal?
In principle, all PFAS substances and all applications are being assessed. The restriction proposal will eventually indicate which PFAS will not be subject to the restriction, by special derogation. The intention is therefore to make as broad a proposal as possible. This prevents one PFAS compound from being replaced by another PFAS compound that also has harmful properties after the restriction comes into effect.
Is it not possible to prohibit or discourage products with PFAS in the Netherlands in anticipation of a ban?
Since the Netherlands is part of an open European market for goods, a European approach is more effective. A European approach also means a level playing field for the industry. Companies can use the announcement of a restriction proposal, and transparency about steps in the process towards it, to prepare for the restriction. It can discourage companies to continue producing products with PFAS, and it can also encourage them to look for or develop alternatives.
If PFAS is banned in Europe, can PFAS products from outside Europe still be sold or traded here?
No, that will not be allowed. Restrictions also apply to products coming from outside the European Union.
As a consumer, what will I notice as a result of a restriction on the substances?
The restriction proposal is currently in an initial phase. The consequences of a restriction are not yet clear.
As a producer/importer/retailer, what will I notice as a result of this restriction?
The proposal is formulated for a large number of PFAS with the aim of restricting the production, marketing and use of products containing these compounds. ECHA is publishing the proposal on 7 February on their website (ECHA). You can prepare now by checking whether you are using PFAS and how the PFAS you are using could potentially be replaced in your applications. They could be replaced by other chemicals, but PFAS could also be eliminated by making changes in the design of your product or processes.
I have information about the use of PFAS and about alternatives to PFAS. Who can I contact?
Send your information to restrictiePFAS@rivm.nl. Your information will be used in compiling the restriction proposal dossier. It will also be shared with the other member states working on this restriction proposal (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany). If desired, your information will be treated confidentially.