Many materials containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are indispensable in numerous machines and systems. They are used under extreme conditions such as high or low temperatures, intensive abrasion or aggressive chemical environments. In addition to the European PFAS restriction project, other regions are also dealing with similar processes.
For this reason, VDMA Nord and ProduktionNRW organized a virtual information event on 30 November 2023. The aim was to draw the attention of the mechanical and plant engineering industry to global regulatory activities. The mechanical and plant engineering sector in particular, which has an enormously high export ratio, should find out about the respective local regulations and comply with them accordingly.
Approaches to PFAS regulation in selected regions
Thorsten Gehrke, VDMA Environment and Sustainability, began by discussing the Stockholm Convention, which has now been ratified by 152 countries. This international agreement already regulates the substances PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) and PFHxS (perfluorohexanesulfonic acid). As part of the implementation of this convention, individual governments are taking measures to reduce or ban the release of these substances into the environment. A further objective is to prevent the production and use of new substances with similar properties.
The UK has a narrower definition of PFAS compared to the EU/OECD, which means that the scope of application is much smaller. Hundreds of PFAS could be restricted here, as opposed to thousands under the EU restriction. In addition, the complete inclusion of fluoropolymers in the restriction is not recommended. Instead, the approval of the use of certain PFAS as excipients in the production and processing of fluorinated polymers is favored.
A reporting and record-keeping requirement was introduced in the USA on November 12, 2023. This obliges persons who manufacture (including import) or have manufactured these chemical substances since January 1, 2011 to electronically report information on the use, production volume and hazards of PFAS – including for imported products containing PFAS.
Additional provisions exist for the US states of Minnesota and Maine. From January 1, 2025, it will be prohibited in Minnesota to sell products with intentionally added PFAS to end consumers. In Maine, manufacturers of all products containing PFAS will be required to notify the Department and pay a fee from January 1, 2025. As of January 1, 2030, no product containing PFAS may be sold in Maine unless the use of PFAS in the product is classified as “currently unavoidable”.
Brazilian legislators have introduced a bill to regulate the handling of PFAS. If this is implemented, Brazil would be the first country in the region to regulate these substances. Companies and industries that use PFAS in manufacturing would be subject to new requirements under the legislation, including the obligation to submit annual reports on their PFAS consumption and disposal practices.
Exchange of experience and discussion
The concluding discussion focused primarily on the future regulation of PFAS in the USA. The diverse interpretations and reporting obligations on this already complex topic of PFAS substances make it particularly difficult for medium-sized companies in the mechanical and plant engineering sector to achieve legal certainty, especially in view of possible penalties in the USA.
The participants were also interested in the regulatory plans in Asia, particularly in countries such as China and India. It was assumed that these countries will possibly follow the legal interpretation in Europe or the USA – even if no concrete regulatory measures are currently planned.
- Information on the Stockholm Convention: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/regulierung-von-pfas-unter-reach-clp-stockholm
- The British regulatory approach: https://www.hse.gov.uk/reach/rmoa.htm
- The US regulatory approach: https: //www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/tsca-section-8a7-reporting-and-recordkeeping
The event was offered by VDMA Nord in cooperation with ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the cluster for mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is organized by VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks with each other and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.