The industry invests in phasing out PFAS
20 January 2022, 12:21
Knowledge about negative health and environmental effects from PFAS chemicals is increasing. One of the greatest concerns is that they do not degrade, which means that the amount of PFAS in the environment will continue to increase until we stop using them. Many companies want to phase out PFAS and are prepared do so without waiting for future regulations. Now the project POPFREE Industry brings together 22 partners who want to collaborate for a PFAS phase-out and to find suitable alternatives.
RISE is leading the planning project POPFREE Industry, to develop a plan for a competence centre, which will support companies in the phase-out work. Vinnova, Sweden’s Innovation Agency, and partners contribute with financing.
- I see great value in the fact that we collaborate across industry boundaries and include several steps in the supply and value chain. We will need to cooperate to manage this, and more companies and stakeholders are welcome to join for the competence centre POPFREE Industry, says Lisa Skedung, project manager for POPFREE Industry and researcher at RISE.
Today, only a small proportion of all PFASs are regulated, but the European Commission's Chemicals Strategy, published in October 2020, highlights the need to phase out PFAS as a group. The Swedish Chemicals Agency works together with its counterparts in Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany to develop a restriction proposal that will cover all non-essential uses of PFAS.
More and more consumers and companies are questioning the use of PFAS, and many companies want to phase out their use. Therefore, the request to form a competence centre has attracted great interest. Tonie Wickman, deputy project manager for POPFREE Industry and advisor at the Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution at RISE, is one of the initiators:
- Developing good alternatives takes time, and it is also an extensive work to test and develop products for each specific use, even in the case there are alternatives on the market. Today, it is also a great challenge just to know if there are PFASs in goods, products and processes because a lack of regulation has also meant a lack of information. Without requirements, suppliers of materials, components, mixtures and products are not used to reporting this content, says Tonie Wickman.
Another challenge is related to waste and recycling. PFAS will need to be handled in the foreseeable future, while today we have very limited knowledge of how that handling should take place, so that the substances do not continue to spread to soil, water and air during the final disposal of waste or during material or goods circulation.
Recently the project POPFREE Industry had a digital kick-off bringing together all project partners: Apoteket AB, Bagaren och Kocken AB, Biltema Nordic Services AB, BRAV Norway AS, Cervera AB, ChemSec, ClasOhlson AB, Houdini Sportswear AB, IKEA of Sweden AB, iPinium AB, Kemikalieinspektionen, Nordic Paper Seffle AB, Order Nordic AB, Ragn-Sellsföretagen AB, RISE AB, Rusta AB, Stena Recycling International AB, Stockholm University, Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution, Umeå University, Volvo Car Corporation and Zound Industries International AB.
During the year of 2022, companies are expected to both work internally and collaborate to advance their own phase-out work and contribute to a long-term plan for the envisioned competence centre.
Read more about POPFREE Industry:
Lisa Skedung, Project manager
phone. +46 10 619 60 16
Tonie Wickman, Deputy project manager
Swedish Centre for Chemicals Substitution
phone. +46 10 516 53 40
FACTS ABOUT PFAS
PFAS is an abbreviation for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, and a collective name for a large and complex group of substances, which includes at least one fully fluorinated carbon atom. PFAS chemicals are produced and used because they make surfaces water and dirt repellent and they are also film-forming, provide low friction and can withstand high temperatures. These unique properties have led to their use in many different applications, such as food packaging and grease-resistant paper, film-forming products, surface treatment and impregnation of clothing, upholstery fabrics and shoes, non-stick coatings in frying pans, ski waxes, beauty products, electronics and firefighting foam. PFAS began to be produced on a larger scale in the 1950s and a major problem is that PFAS chemicals are extremely persistent, which means that they accumulate in nature. Some PFASs are also mobile in air and water and spread easily over large areas and can bioaccumulate. This means that today they are ubiquitous in the environment and the amount increases over time. PFAS has for example been measured in municipal drinking water, in infants and in polar bears in the Arctic.
In terms of health effects, knowledge of most PFAS substances is still small. There are studies of commonly used individual PFAS substances that have shown negative health effects, such as increased cancer frequency, increased difficulty getting pregnant, effect on kidneys, liver, cholesterol levels and on the body's immune system and a weakened immune response to vaccinations. The substance group consists of more than 4,700 different industrially produced substances and effects have only been studied for a few of these substances, which when regulated often were substituted by other less studied PFAS substances.