The battle over PFAS in Europe

Fluoropolymers’ myriad uses mean a ban could have widespread implications.

A full-scale furor is erupting in Europe, pitting industry against government. The European Commission (EC) is proposing that all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) be banned because it says they are persistent, can be toxic, and can bioaccumulate in organisms—including people. The ban would include all fluoropolymers, a major subset of PFAS.

European fluoropolymer producers and users are fighting the proposal. They say that fluoropolymers are essential in numerous applications, that they often have no substitutes, and that they present no risk to human health and the environment. Thousands of companies have complained to the EC as part of an online consultation on the proposed legislation.

Our conclusion is that less than 10% of fluoropolymer use can be considered essential. Jonatan Kleimark, senior chemical and business adviser, International Chemical Secretariat

The argument is coming to a head. Industry will have another opportunity in the coming months to discuss its position with the EC. Various regulatory bodies will then vote on the proposed legislation. If it becomes law, it will come into effect in about 2026. Plenty of heated discussions are expected first.

Fluoropolymers have a carbon-only molecular backbone with fluorine atoms directly attached to it. The market size and diversity of applications are significant. Thousands of types of fluoropolymers are in use across Europe in thousands of products, including low-friction coatings, gaskets, and pipes that are resistant to high temperatures and durable in the presence of most chemicals.

Author: Alex Scott