A proposed REACH restriction on the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the EU would effectively prevent the use of all fluoropolymers in products, say two electronics trade bodies.
PFOA is a processing aid for manufacturing fluoropolymers, which are used in the electronics, textiles and automotive industries, to name a few, for their heat, water, oil and stain resistant properties.
The proposal, submitted to Echa by the German and Norwegian authorities last year, calls for a restriction on the manufacture, use or placing on the market of PFOA and related substances (linear and branched derivatives) as substances on their own, or as constituents of other substances, in a mixture or articles. In addition, it says articles or any components containing one of the substances in concentrations equal to or greater than 2ppb of a single substance shall not be placed on the market (CW 24 October 2014).
The substance group has been identified as substances of very high concern (SVHCs), having been shown to be both category 1B reprotoxicant and PBT (CW 20 June 2013).
Responding to Echa’s recent consultation on the proposal, digital technology association DigitalEurope says the 2ppb threshold would lead to a “de facto restriction of all fluoropolymers” – including short-chain/C6 fluoropolymer chemistry, which some consider is less environmentally persistent than the similar longer-chain substances (GBB May 2012).
Complying with the proposed limit would be difficult, it says, because thermal or other decomposition, during the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, will “highly likely” lead to trace contamination with PFOA.
Similarly, the Japanese Electronics and Information Technology Association said adopting the proposed threshold would be the same as restricting almost all fluoropolymer compounds.
As contamination of PFOA is likely, manufacturers of articles would have to control minute impurities in materials, results of decomposition in production processes and migration from outside environments, such as process equipment, the association said. “This is unreasonable and impracticable as a legal requirement to restrict the contents of substances in final products,” it added.
Speaking to Chemical Watch, Jessica Bowman, executive director of industry body the FluoroCouncil, said current analytical methods are unlikely to detect PFOA at the “unprecedented low level” proposed, hampering the ability of companies and government inspectors to generate accurate testing results on the presence of PFOA in a product. “Therefore, in day to day enforcement, short- chain/C6 alternative substances would be incorrectly characterised as containing restricted substances, leaving no alternatives with acceptable performance in the market.”
A consultation response from an unnamed company said the economic and practical feasibility of conducting measurements to ensure compliance, with a limit as low as 2ppb, would be “extremely difficult” and suggested that raising the threshold would be “easier and considerably more cost efficient”, both for companies to demonstrate compliance and for authorities to enforce the limit.
According to the restriction proposal, alternatives exist for most uses of PFOA and PFOA-related substances, largely in the form of short-chain per- and polyfluorinated chemicals. However, the proposal says that according to industry, non-fluorine containing substances are available for some applications, but may not perform as well.
Earlier this month, the restriction proposal was discussed at Echa’s Risk Assessment Committee meeting but did not progress (CW 11 June 2015). The next stage in the process will see the Rac and the Socio-Economic Analysis Committee (Seac) prepare and adopt opinions on the proposal, which will again go out to public consultation.
Last month, the EU Council of Ministers said it would back a global ban on PFOA and its compounds under the UN Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (CW 7 May 2015).