Read the full article by Peggy Hollinger (Financial Times)

“To anyone following the so-called ‘forever chemicals’ debate, the tale is familiar. But there is no guarantee of a happy ending this time unless industry adapts its approach.

Last week Europe launched a public consultation on one of the most radical pieces of chemical legislation ever proposed: a phased ban on up to 10,000 substances known as PFAS.

These molecules, which have a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms, are used in millions of applications, from cookware to cosmetics, batteries and semiconductors to medical devices. They are valued for their high resistance to oil, water and heat.

But as their use has multiplied, scientists are increasingly concerned about health risks. PFAS do not break down easily, accumulate in the environment and human organs, and are increasingly linked to cancers and other health issues. The US Environmental Protection Agency has warned that even near-zero levels of PFAS could pose a threat.

Yet the international chemicals industry is up in arms, declaring that Europe’s proposal threatens global growth, makes the green transition impossible and jeopardises thousands of jobs by classing all PFAS as harmful. In some cases, such as chipmaking, alternatives are unavailable or costly to develop. Meanwhile, at least one law firm is advising its chemical clients to ‘step up advocacy activities’ — or lobbying — to kill the proposal.

It is a predictable reaction. But it is misguided. The global trend is clear and it is not in PFAS’s favour.

Two of the most toxic variants have already been banned under a UN convention. Concern is now growing over their PFAS replacements and, with so many, it is hard to judge toxicity on a case-by-case basis. So European regulators are considering a broader restriction unless safety can be proved. Even in the US, where the approach is more targeted, PFAS restrictions are growing. Some 30 US states have either implemented or are considering restrictions on forever chemicals.

The number of US law suits is also rising, while in Europe 3M’s $581mn settlement with Belgium last year over PFAS pollution could signal more environmental law suits, insurers have warned.

3M, one of the world’s largest PFAS producers, certainly thinks the risk is not worth it. It has said it will stop producing or using the compounds by the end of 2025.

Investors, too, are concerned. Managers of $8tn in assets last year wrote to the biggest chemical companies to demand persistent chemicals be phased out.

Some, like 3M, have set out road maps for action. Others are pulling information on their troublesome chemicals from public view. And yet others such as Chemours — a company spun out of Du Pont — and Japan’s Daikin are even opening new production lines to serve chipmakers and other industries.

There is a case for exempting vital industries such as chipmaking, where the high specifications required make alternatives more difficult to find. But this should be paired with stricter regulation on use and disposal.

There is less justification for continued use in discretionary areas, such as cosmetics, rainwear and dental floss.

Without the pressure of regulation it is doubtful that producers or users will be inclined to find alternatives. Industry has known of the toxic effects of some PFAS for decades. Yet they are still in use and accumulating in the environment.”…