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ECHA Launches Consultation on Proposed Ban of Chemicals Known to Be Used in Textiles, Food Packaging and Cosmetics

At the end of last year, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) launched a consultation on proposals to ban highly fluorinated chemicals within the European Union. The chemicals are known by the acronym PFCAs (perfluorocarboxylic acids), and are said to be toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent (PBT) in the environment.

Hong Kong companies should be alerted to this development as PFCAs are widely used in a variety of consumer products for their unique water-, oil-, and grease-repellent properties. They occur in firefighting foams, textiles, food packaging, detergents, cosmetics, dirt-repellent surfaces, paints and inks.

The restriction proposal, which was submitted jointly by the Swedish Chemicals Agency and the German Federal Environment Agency, is aimed at restricting the manufacture, use, placing on the market and import of C9-C14 PFCAs, including their salts and related substances (precursors) as substances on their own, in a mixture or in an article or parts thereof. The proposal limits the concentration at a maximum of 25 parts per billion (ppb) for the sum of C9-C14 PFCAs and their salts or 260 ppb for the sum of C9-C14 PFCA related substances.

If adopted, the proposed restriction will be inserted into Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation (the Annex sets out all such restrictions under REACH). It will become effective 18 months from its entry into force. As a whole, this restriction covers around 200 highly fluorinated chemicals.

PFCAs are synthetic compounds characterised by a fully (per-) or partly (poly-) fluorinated carbon chain in connection with different functional groups. They are divided into two main groups depending on the length of the perfluorinated carbon chain: long-chain PFCAs and short-chain PFCAs.

PFCAs have a well-known hazard profile. Due to their properties they raise concerns for causing severe and irreversible harm to the environment and to human health if their release is not minimised.

C9-PFCA and C10-PFCA as well as their sodium and ammonium salts are already listed in Annex VI of the ‘CLP’ (classification ,labelling and packaging) Regulation, due to their hazardous properties. In addition, C9-C14 PFCAs are bioaccumulative and are among the most persistent chemical substances. Therefore, they were added to the Candidate List as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) under REACH.

C9–C14 PFCA related substances can be converted to C9-C14 PFCAs in the environment and are therefore included in the scope of the proposed restriction. PFCAs themselves, on the other hand, do not undergo degradation under environmentally relevant conditions.

They are highly water soluble and can be transported over long distances in the atmosphere and water. As a result, the chemicals are omnipresent in the environment, even in remote areas such as the polar circles, as well as in human body fluids.

The background for the present proposal is that an existing amendment of Annex XVII to the REACH Regulation by Commission Regulation 2017/1000 restricting the manufacture, use and placing on the market of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related substances will become effective in 2020. The present proposal is intended to prevent the industry from replacing PFOA-based substances (C8 chemistry) with longer chain PFCAs (C9-14 chemistry) in their products.

There are alternatives to C9-C14 PFCAs and PFOA currently being used. These alternatives include other per- and polyfluorinated substances, e.g. perfluorohexanoic acid-based substances (C6 chemistry) and fluorine-free substances.

However, during the manufacture of C6 perfluorohexanoic acid-based substances, longer chain C9-C14 PFCAs and related substances still occur as unintended by-products. Therefore, the proposal contains a derogation allowing for such manufacture, as well as for a substance that is (or is to be) used as a transported isolated intermediate, provided that further conditions are met.

The public consultation launched by ECHA is intended to provide ECHA’s committees with scientific and technical information in order to assist them in their opinion-forming process. Interested parties (authorities, companies, organisations and individuals) are invited to comment on the proposal using the ECHA website. ECHA particularly welcomes information from the semiconductor and cosmetics industries.

Although it is possible to submit comments until 20 June 2018, ECHA welcomes early comments, and recommends submitting them preferably by 16 February 2018 for a higher impact in the decision-making process.

The final opinions of ECHA’s committees are scheduled to be available by 20 December 2018. The joint opinion of ECHA’s committees will serve as a basis, by the European Commission, for deciding on the adoption of future restrictions.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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