The 21-page document calls for Europe to eliminate all uses of PFAS that are not “essential” and to approach the chemicals as a group rather than individually. The report, titled “Elements for an EU-strategy for PFASs,” maps out a comprehensive attack on the chemicals that have contaminated water around the world, and conveys an urgency that has been largely lacking from the U.S. government. The document was created in response to a request from the European Commission’s Environmental Council in June and calls for “immediate action to cease the release and exposure of all PFASs as far as possible” on the grounds that there are huge health and monetary costs of not acting. It describes the chemicals that have been used to make firefighting foam, make-up, food packaging, and non-stick coatings, including Teflon, as extremely mobile in soil and water and warns that “PFASs will remain in the environment for ages.”
The strategy document also notes that the mobile and persistent compounds will be extremely expensive to clean up in the environment. The costs of removal of PFAS chemicals from drinking water and ground water in Europe has been estimated at 10 to 20 billion Euros over 20 years — a figure that does not include property loss or ecological damage, the document acknowledges, since “these could not be quantified.”
While declaring that “any non-essential use of PFAS should be phased out as soon as possible,” and calling for the more gradual phase out of compounds considered essential, the EU document acknowledges the difficulty of distinguishing between the two groups and suggests several strategies. “One approach could be to start regulating consumer uses, as these are more likely to be non-essential (e.g. clothing, cosmetics, toys and food contact materials.)” A paper published earlier this year outlined that approach, suggesting that PFAS should be considered essential if they are necessary for health, safety, or the critical functioning of society and have no feasible alternatives.
The regulatory plan lays out a number of possible measures that could effectively restrict the chemicals, including REACH, the EU’s chemical regulation framework. “A broad restriction under REACH covering all PFAS would be the preferred option,” the commission advises. But the document says that other legal tools, including laws governing industrial emissions, waterways, cosmetics, worker safety and waste management, should be used, too.
While the report — which was sent to European Commission officials by ministers from Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden, and was accompanied by a letter of support from environmental officials in Austria, Germany, Finland and Italy — focuses on government action, it also urges industry to do its part to “take more responsibility” and voluntarily phase out the chemicals.
The EU Directorate General for the Environment did not respond to a request for comment.
Whatever paths the European regulatory approach to PFAS takes, the plan urges the European Commission to move quickly, proposing “that action be taken on the EU-level to phase out PFASs at the latest by 2025, to be in effect by 2030.” If they don’t wage this serious attack on the PFAS chemicals, the document warns, “their concentrations will continue to increase, and their toxic and polluting effects will be difficult to reverse.”