The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently released a proposal that could ban a group of chemical compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the European Union (EU).  
This proposal is considered one of the strictest regulations on chemicals in the EU's history. 
The plan, which was created by the governments of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and submitted to Echa in January 2023, will likely be presented to EU member states in 2025. 
If approved, this proposal would effectively ban over 10,000 different chemicals belonging to the PFAS group. The ban would cover their production, use, and sale within the EU. It focuses on PFAS substances that contain specific elements, but there are a few exceptions. 
If this proposal becomes law, companies will be required to find alternative substances for approximately 10,000 PFAS chemicals used in various applications.  
However, finding suitable alternatives might be challenging because in many cases, alternatives don't currently exist, and in some cases, they may never be found. The fact that this proposal has been formally submitted serves as a clear indication to companies that they need to start seeking alternatives to PFAS. 

What are PFAS? 

PFAS, which stands for Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, are a group of chemicals that are called the "Forever Chemicals." They are not found in nature and there are over 4,700 different types of them. 
What makes PFAS special is that they stick around in the environment for a very long time. They don't break down easily and have been discovered in the blood and breast milk of people and animals worldwide. 
PFAS are used in many things we encounter every day. For example: 
They are found in food packaging made from paper or cardboard, like takeaway containers, popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and ready-made food. 
They are used in non-stick cookware to make it easier to cook without sticking. 
They can be found in textiles such as waterproof outdoor clothing, carpets, and mattresses. 
PFAS are even used in some cosmetics like hair conditioner, foundation, face cream, and sunscreen. 
They are also used in electronic devices like smartphones. 
In addition, they are used in special foams called fire-fighting foams, which are used to put out liquid fires such as petroleum fires. 
A recent study from 2021 found that PFAS chemicals are being used in disposable food packaging from popular fast-food chains, takeaway restaurants, and supermarkets in Europe. 

How do we come into contact with PFAS? 

We come into contact with many different PFAS chemicals all at once through the products we use daily, like certain household items.  
We can also be exposed to PFAS through our environment, such as when we drink contaminated water or eat certain foods. Removing PFAS from water is really difficult for water treatment plants, so having PFAS in our drinking water is becoming a growing concern. 

How harmful are PFAS? 

PFAS can be harmful to both people and animals. Two specific chemicals in this group, called PFOA and PFOS, have been extensively studied and found to: 
Mess with our hormones (which is why they're called "endocrine disruptors") 
Affect the reproductive system and the development of unborn babies 
Impact our immune system and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in kids 
Increase the risk of certain cancers, like kidney and testicular cancer 
It's important to note that there are thousands of PFAS chemicals being used, but we don't have enough information about their potential harm. 

How widespread is the contamination? 

PFAS don't break down easily in the environment and can move around a lot in water. This means that once they're released, like during manufacturing or when they seep out of products we use, PFAS can travel long distances and stay intact for a very long time.  
They have been found all over the world, even in remote places like the Arctic. PFAS have been discovered in the blood and breast milk of people and animals everywhere. 

How do we get rid of them? 

Getting rid of PFAS from the environment is incredibly challenging, and it's virtually impossible to remove them from the vast oceans.  
Because PFAS stick around for such a long time, both humans and animals will continue to be exposed to these chemicals through the environment for many decades, even if we were to stop using them today. This poses a threat to future generations. 

How can you protect yourself from PFAS? 

Here are some things you can do to lower your own and your children's exposure to PFAS through everyday products: 
Food: Try to avoid using non-stick cookware and opt for cooking meals at home instead of relying on fast-food or takeout. 
Textiles: Look for labels on clothes and other textile products that say "PFAS-free" or "PFC-free." 
Cosmetics: Check the ingredient list of your cosmetics and avoid products that contain chemicals with names like "fluoro" or "PTFE." Also, stay away from dental floss that has coatings made of PTFE. 
By being mindful of these tips, you can take steps to reduce your exposure to PFAS and make choices that promote a healthier lifestyle. 

CHEM Trust recommendations 

CHEM Trust proposes the following actions are taken to address these ‘Forever Chemicals’: 
Government actions 
Governments must act faster to phase out all PFAS, in collaboration with the EU and through global agreements. 
Governments must ensure that the environment is monitored for a wide range of PFAS chemicals. 
Governments should work towards new, protective regulation of all highly persistent synthetic chemicals. 

More reading: 

The Scottish NGO FIDRA has a website dedicated on, including recommendations on PFAS-free school uniforms. 
The US Green Science Policy Institute created a website dedicated to PFAS: PFAS Central, grouping recent news and science about PFAS. 
See also reports from IPEN on PFAS available on their resources page
Visit the OECD portal on PFAS
3M to Exit PFAS Manufacturing by the End of 2025 
Facing mounting legal battles, 3M quits forever chemicals 
Tagged as: legislation, PFAS, testing
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