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Leagal activities regarding PFAS

Report on what is going on when it comes to the legal aspects of PFAS, on a global level as well as on EU level and national. This report was writern in June 2019. 

This article was written by Stefan Posner.

On a global level

UNEP/Stockholm Convention

The scientific committee under the Stockholm Convention (POPRC) recommended recently to eliminate the industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related compounds, widely used in domestic non-stick cooking ware and food-processing appliances, surface treatment agents in textiles, paper and paints, and in firefighting foams. 

POPRC recently adopted the risk profile on perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), its salts and PFHxS-related compounds moving the chemical to the next review stage requiring a risk management evaluation, that includes an analysis of possible control measures, to be prepared by an intersessional working group established for this purpose . 

OECD/UN work programme of PFAS and alternatives

The current work programme of the group is composed of six areas of work. Each of these areas are described below with corresponding outputs and status. 

1. Enhance information and knowledge sharing on alternatives to PFASs, including on short chains alternatives:

  • Organisation of public webinars for information exchange (about three per year): Nine webinars have been organised at the time this paper is written, aiming to exchange information on alternatives and other relevant risk reduction topics. The webinars covered the following topics:
    ‒ Overall Trends in the Development and Uses of Alternatives;
    ‒ Industry Case Studies Illustrating a Move to Alternatives;
    ‒ Short-chain PFASs – No alternatives to PFASs - Are short-chain PFASs an alternative to long-chain PFASs? A regulatory perspective;
    ‒ Guidance on alternatives to PFOS and its related chemicals developed by the POPs Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention and other activities of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions;
    ‒ PFAS Groupings for the Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation (IMAP) Framework;
    ‒ Presentation of the new database of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances;
    ‒ Best Environmental Practices (BEP) for Textiles;
    ‒ Toward greener water and oil repellents in the textile industry - case study;
    ‒ Best Environmental Practices for Class B Firefighting Foams.
    Most webinars recordings are available on the OECD PFASs Webportal
     
  • Gather information on market trends and commercial availability of alternatives to PFASs: a questionnaire was developed in 2018 to collect information on current uses of alternatives to PFAS in the production of products and articles in three industry sectors: textile, firefighting foam; and food packaging. This questionnaire was circulated to members of the Global PFC Group and also posted for public access on the Webportal. Twelve responses were received to the questionnaire from both governments and industry. The next step is now to commission a report that will be based on the analysis of the responses received as well as on additional desk research. However, at the time of writing of this paper there is not sufficient funding available to commission such a report and the project is on hold.
     
  • Gather scientific information on alternatives, including their hazard profiles: this work has not started yet, but this type of information was also solicited in the survey on alternatives mentioned above.

2. Information about uses and product content of PFASs: this area of work is partly covered by the project on current uses of alternatives – see above. Also, there is a project led by Switzerland on Expanding the Current Terminology of PFASs. The project outcome is planned for publication in early 2020. This project will allow facilitating communication and sharing of information regarding existing PFASs and as such facilitate identification and sharing of information on PFASs in products in a second stage.

3. Survey on production and use of PFASs: following the publication in 2015 of a report on “Working Towards a Global Emission Inventory of PFASs - Focus on PFCAs” , the group decided to keep this area of work on hold until a solution is found to assure participation from key manufacturing countries in a survey.

4. Updating the OECD List of PFOS, PFAS, PFOA, PFCA, related compounds and chemicals that may degrade to PFCA: this project has been completed and the updated list published in June 2018 .

5. Risk Reduction Approaches for PFASs: a questionnaire was circulated to members of the group to gather information on latest risk reduction initiatives. This information will be directly included in the Webportal in the second quarter of 2019. It is the plan that regular updates are made to the Webportal and keep the country information section up to date.

6. Capacity Building Activities: there have been continued efforts to expand the participation within the Global PFC group, including reaching out to SAICM focal points.  However, this has had limited success. UN Environment had agreed to develop a strategy for capacity building activities for this area of work but this is on hold so far.

Options for future work of the OECD/UN group post 2020

Following discussions with members of the OECD/UN Environment Global PFC Group, the following areas of work were of most interest to the group for the 2021-2024 period:
a. Establish a mechanism to identify priorities for further coordinated efforts related to PFASs. The focus could be on which PFASs should primarily be the focus of scientific and regulatory efforts and for which scientific data should be generated to inform these efforts. The mechanism could use criteria such as (this is a non-exhaustive list): production quantities, type of use (contained or widespread), quantification of releases from uses deemed critical and/or without alternatives.

b. Working toward a phase out of non-essential uses of PFASs. There is a particular interest in working on a definition of the term “essential use” with respect to the applications of PFASs.

c. Conducting Joint Assessments for Groups of PFASs. An issue was raised however that the approaches to assessment of risk might differ between countries and this might complicate such a project. However, this could be minimised by focusing on hazard and/or exposure assessment. Should this be an interest of future work, the Joint Meeting could consider where the work best placed (Global PFC group or Working Party on Hazard Assessment etc.).

d. Continuous exploration of safer alternatives to PFASs (including non-chemical alternatives). This could be done by continuing to share information on alternatives and best practices via webinars and also by finalising the current project on commercial uses of alternatives.

e. Identifying PFASs currently in commerce globally. This would be a continuation of the current work programme, building from the new list of PFAS compounds and the work that was initiated on expanding on the current PFASs terminology.

Other areas of interest that were mentioned are:
• Generating information on the toxic effects of individual PFASs: for example, sharing information generated by regulatory agencies on this matter on the PFASs Webportal (or via other OECD tools such as the eChemPortal) would assist countries in undertaking hazard/risk assessments;
• Understanding the life cycle of polymeric PFASs;
• Raising awareness of PFAS-related issues among policy-makers and the general public, as well as among users of PFAS chemicals;
• Continue the “science-policy dialogue” to identify what has been achieved in the science and policy arenas since the 2017 Zurich workshop and identify further priorities.
• Identifying the types of hazards and risks, beyond the conventional ones, that need risk management action.

It is proposed that the group would also include in the next work programme its continuing activities:
• The organisation of regular webinars, covering a broad range of topics of interest;
• Updating the different sections in the Webportal, in particular the section collecting information on risk reduction initiatives and other relevant projects per countries, and the section presenting the recordings of the webinars.

On a EU/EEA level

Germany proposes a restriction of PFAS C6 chemistry within REACH

Germany will submit a restriction dossier according to REACH annex XVII. This dossier has the intention to restrict on the manufacture and placing on the market of undecafluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), its salts and related substances, that in daily life is called the C6 PFAS chemistry. The expected submission date for the dossier is 27 September 2019.

Norway

Norway has recently started assessing polyfluorinated ethers for possible future regulatory actions. Polyfluorinated ethers are mostly used as surfactants in fluoropolymer production and as agents in FCM.

Sweden

Requirement to report PFAS containing chemical products marketed in Sweden to the national product register

January 1, 2019, the Swedish Chemicals Agency changed its regulations on chemical products and biotechnological organisms (KIFS 2017: 7). The amendment means that companies that today report to the Swedish Chemicals Agency's product register must also state whether the products contain intentionally added PFAS substances. This applies regardless of the content of the substances, but the content itself does not need to be stated.

The first occasion when companies are obliged to provide information on PFASs to the product register will be at the reporting to be made no later than February 2020. An example of such a product is an impregnation spray for shoes (with PFAS).