PFAS crackdown: ECHA supports Germany restrictions on PFHxA

By Julia Wray 14-Dec-2021

The short-chain PFAS sub-group is increasingly replacing long-chain PFAS in industry, says the EU agency

The European Chemicals Agency’s Committees for Risk Assessment and Socio-Economic Analysis have come out in support of Germany’s proposal to restrict the use of undecafluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) and related substances.

The agency’s Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) announced the adoption of its final opinion on Germany’s proposal on 9 December, following the earlier June 2021 opinion by the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) to restrict the ‘persistent’ and ‘mobile’ substances.

The governments of Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway this summer announced that, by July 2022, they would formally propose to the ECHA that PFAS be restricted under the REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) legislation.

RAC supported the proposed PFHxA restriction for uses where it is not possible to minimise emissions by other means.

PFHxAs are a sub-group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are widely used in many sectors. And with many long-chain (C8 to C14) perfluorinated substances, like PFOA and PFCAs, being restricted (or due to be restricted), industry has started using short-chain substances like PFHxA (C6) instead.

In SEAC’s newly-announced opinion, the committee considered that a restriction of PFHxA, in general, is appropriate to address protection for people and the environment across the EU.

That said, while SEAC concluded that a restriction on certain uses – for example, in paper and cardboard in contact with cosmetic products or food, as well as textiles in consumer apparel – was likely to be proportionate, uncertainties in the available information prevented SEAC from concluding that the proposed restriction as a whole was the most appropriate means to address the identified risk.

“The whole PFAS group has been a growing concern for quite a while now,” commented Peter Van der Zandt, ECHA’s Director for Risk Management.

“In the EU, we have already restricted certain groups of them and some are banned globally.

“Next year, we are expecting the restriction proposals for PFAS in fire-fighting foams as well as the broad proposal tackling the whole PFAS class, over 4 000 chemicals, being prepared by five countries.”

He continued: “Assessing big groups of chemicals with many uses and with substantial stakeholder input is challenging for our committees, but they have shown an ability to adapt their ways of working.

“This is good for the future, as more and more restriction proposals will address groups of substances.”

In June, the presence of PFAS in cosmetics made headlines amid the publication of a study, which screened 231 cosmetic products across eight make-up categories, and which found 63% of foundations, 58% of eye products, 55% of lip products and 47% of mascaras to contain fluorine, a precursor for PFAS.

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Commenting on the findings, Alexandra Kowcz, Chief Scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, said at the time that “a small number of PFAS may be found as ingredients, or at trace levels in cosmetics and personal care products, such as lotion, nail polish, eye make-up and foundation”.

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